Aerobic exercise is any type of cardiovascular conditioning or “cardio.” During cardiovascular conditioning, your breathing and heart rate increase for a sustained period of time. Examples of aerobic exercise include swimming laps, running, or cycling.
Anaerobic exercises involve quick bursts of energy and are performed at maximum effort for a short time. Examples include jumping, sprinting, or heavy weight lifting.
Your respiration and heart rate differ in aerobic activities versus anaerobic ones. Oxygen is your main energy source during aerobic workouts.
During aerobic exercise, you breathe faster and deeper than when your heart rate is at rest. You’re maximizing the amount of oxygen in the blood. Your heart rate goes up, increasing blood flow to the muscles and back to the lungs.
During anaerobic exercise, your body requires immediate energy. Your body relies on stored energy sources, rather than oxygen, to fuel itself. That includes breaking down glucose.
Your fitness goals should help determine whether you should participate in aerobic or anaerobic exercise. If you’re new to exercise, you might want to start with aerobic exercises to build up endurance.
If you’ve been exercising a long time or are trying to lose weight quickly, add anaerobic workouts into your routine. Sprints or high intensity interval training (HIIT) may help you meet your goals.
Other benefits of aerobic exercise include:
- can help you lose weight and keep it off
- may help lower and control blood pressure
- may increase your stamina and reduce fatigue during exercise
- activates immune systems, making you less likely to get colds or the flu
- strengthens your heart
- boosts mood
- may help you live longer than those who don’t exercise
Aerobic exercise can benefit almost anyone. But get your doctor’s approval if you’ve been inactive for a long time or live with a chronic condition.
If you’re new to aerobic exercise, it’s important to start slowly and work up gradually to reduce your risk of an injury. For example, start by walking 5 minutes at a time and add 5 minutes each time until you’re up to a 30-minute brisk walk.
Anaerobic exercise can be beneficial if you’re looking to build muscle or lose weight. It can also be beneficial if you’ve been exercising for a long time, and are looking to push through an exercise plateau and meet a new goal. It may also help you maintain muscle mass as you age.
Other benefits include:
- strengthens bones
- burns fat
- builds muscle
- increases stamina for daily activities like hiking, dancing, or playing with kids
Anaerobic exercise can be hard on your body. On a 1 to10 scale for perceived exertion, high intensity anaerobic exercise is anything over a seven. It’s not typically recommended for fitness beginners.
Get your doctor’s approval before adding anaerobic workouts to your routine. Work with a certified fitness professional who can help you create an anaerobic program based on your medical history and goals.
For workouts like HIIT and weight training, a fitness professional can also demonstrate the correct exercise techniques. Performing the exercises with proper technique is important for preventing an injury.
During aerobic activities, you’ll move large muscles in your arms, legs, and hips. Your heart rate will also go up for a sustained period of time.
Examples of aerobic exercises include:
- brisk walking
- swimming laps
- aerobic dancing, like Zumba
- cross-country skiing
- stair climbing
- elliptical training
Anaerobic exercises are performed at maximum effort for a shorter period of time. Examples include:
- high intensity interval training (HIIT)
- heavy weight lifting
- calisthenics, like plyometrics, jump squats, or box jumps
- sprinting (while running, cycling, or swimming)
The American Heart Association recommends healthy adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at least 5 days a week, or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity 3 days a week. You can also add in strength training two times a week to round out your routine.
Anaerobic exercises can be taxing on the body. With a doctor’s approval and the help of a certified fitness professional, anaerobic exercises can be added into your weekly exercise routine.
Perform anaerobic exercise like HIIT workouts no more than two or three days each week, always allowing for at least one full day of recovery in-between.
Aerobic and anaerobic exercises can be beneficial for your health. Depending on your goals and fitness level, you might want to start with aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging, and strength training two to three times a week.
As you build up endurance and strength, you can add in anaerobic exercises such as HIIT and plyometrics. These exercises can help you gain muscle, burn fat, and increase your exercise stamina.
Before beginning any exercise routine, check with your doctor. You can also work with a certified fitness professional at your gym or community center who can recommend the best routine for you.