There are many different ways to exercise. How you choose to get your fitness on is up to you, and the best way to workout is by doing activities you enjoy that challenge your strength and endurance. We’ve talked before about diversifying your fitness to get stronger, and it can help to have a high-level understanding of the two broad types of exercise: aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

What is Aerobic Exercise?

Aerobic exercise is any form of exercise that works your cardiovascular system for an extended period of time and uses oxygen along with stores of carbs, protein, and fat to power your workout. Aerobic means ‘with oxygen’ and comes from the Greek words for air (aero) and life (bios). This type of exercise is important because strengthening your cardiovascular system is what provides the benefits of cardio like decreasing the risk of heart disease, lowering your blood pressure, decreasing your resting heart rate, and improving lung function and capacity. 

In the same way that you can work your muscles to improve your strength, you can increase the strength and endurance of your heart and lungs. When you do any kind of cardio activity where your heart rate becomes elevated and you’re breathing hard over a long duration, you’re doing aerobic exercise and working your cardiovascular system. With aerobic exercise, oxygen is flowing quickly through your body and providing fuel to your muscles while carrying waste products like carbon dioxide and lactic acid away. Aerobic exercise pushes your body’s ability to do a challenging activity over time. When done regularly, you’ll see improvements in your endurance, muscle tone, and weight management. 

Types of Aerobic Exercise:

  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Walking at a quick pace
  • Rowing
  • Dancing
  • Jumping and plyometrics
  • High-intensity sports
  • Cycling

What is Anaerobic Exercise? 

Anaerobic adds the Greek prefix for without (an) to aerobics, meaning exercise ‘without oxygen’. While this is obviously not quite accurate since you can’t do any activities without breathing, it illustrates how anaerobic exercise is different from aerobic exercise. Anaerobic exercise includes any exercises where you’re working your muscles, often at a high-intensity, for a short period of time. 

Unlike aerobic exercise, which is a sustained effort for the cardiovascular system to move oxygen quickly throughout your body, anaerobic exercise uses a different form of fuel to power your workout. With anaerobic exercise, your muscles don’t have a continual high flow of oxygen to power movement so your body breaks down the glucose that is stored in muscles to use as energy. Anaerobic exercise pushes your body’s ability to do a challenging activity at a high intensity for only a short period of time. It pushes a single limit of your body at a time, rather than taxing your whole body for a long duration. When done regularly, anaerobic activity results in improvements in your muscle mass, strength, and weight management. 

Types of Anaerobic Exercise:

  • Weight lifting
  • Tai Chi
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • High Intensity Interval Training (HITT)

For more fitness insight and advice on how to incorporate aerobic and anaerobic exercise into your routine, check out our other blogs.