Aerobic vs Anaerobic Exercise – Here’s What You Need to Know

Written by Ally Streelman

NowRx Pharmacy

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise - NowRx

The link between exercise and health has been well documented with benefits that include a lower risk of disease, depression, anxiety, and obesity, just to name a few. But do specific types of exercise have more health benefits than others?

Here, we will explore aerobic vs anaerobic exercise and take look at a few examples as well as some of the unique benefits of each.

What Is Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise is exercise that uses oxygen as the primary source for producing energy. In other words, it is when our muscles are activated aerobically or “with oxygen”.

Generally, aerobic exercise is characterized by prolonged, continuous, and relatively low to medium intensity. For example, swimming and jogging are common forms of aerobic exercise. However, some forms of interval training may also be considered aerobic in nature. Ultimately, a good rule of thumb to figure out whether an exercise is aerobic is by how long you can sustain the intensity. If you can perform the exercise at a consistent intensity for more than a few minutes then chances are it is an aerobic exercise.

Let’s take a look at a few common examples of aerobic exercise.

Examples of Aerobic Exercise

Examples of aerobic exercise include any activity that uses oxygen as the primary source to meet energy demands. Some of the most common examples of aerobic exercise include:

  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Light Jogging or Walking
  • Biking at Moderate Intensity
  • Hiking
  • Gardening or Light Yard Work

However, this is by no means an exhaustive list as aerobic exercise can really be anything. As we mentioned, a good rule of thumb to figure out whether an exercise is aerobic is by how long you can sustain the intensity. If you can perform at a consistent intensity for longer than a few minutes then chances are it is aerobic.

Is walking an aerobic exercise?

Walking is an aerobic exercise. Depending on the pace and terrain, walking can be sustained for long periods of time and primarily uses aerobic metabolism to meet energy demands. One of the main benefits of walking is that it is relatively easy, accessible, and enjoyable for most people. To maximize the benefits of walking, aim for about 30 minutes of walking at a slow to moderate pace each day.

Is yoga an aerobic exercise?

Yoga is an aerobic exercise depending on the intensity of the flow. There are many types of yoga, some of which entail gentle stretching and deep breathing exercises. This type of yoga will generally not tax an individual enough in order to qualify as aerobic exercise.

However, one study found that when yoga was performed at a faster speed, it qualified as aerobic exercise. This type of yoga is often called power yoga. There are also some forms of yoga that are high-intensity and rely on the body’s anaerobic pathways, such as yoga combined with strength training.

Thus, yoga can be anaerobic exercise, aerobic exercise, or neither depending on the type of yoga.

Benefits of Aerobic Exercise

The main benefits of aerobic exercise are reduced mortality and improved overall health. For example, aerobic exercise can lower cholesterol and decrease blood pressure which reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Other benefits of aerobic exercise include:

While some benefits of aerobic exercise are noticeable right away, like improved energy, mood, and blood pressure, most of these benefits are associated with consistent aerobic exercise over time. 

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend at least 150-300 minutes of moderately intense exercise per week, broken down into multiple exercise sessions, 75-150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic exercise.

What is Anaerobic Exercise

Anaerobic exercise is an exercise that does not use oxygen as the primary source of producing energy. In other words, it is when our muscles are activated anaerobically or “without oxygen”.

While aerobic exercise is generally characterized by prolonged, low-intensity activity, anaerobic exercise is the complete opposite. Anaerobic exercise involves short, high-intensity spurts of muscle activation that cannot be sustained for very long. The high intensity causes an oxygen deficit which forces the body to produce energy via glycolysis and leads to the buildup of lactic acid.

Some common examples of anaerobic exercise include sprinting and weight lifting.

Benefits of Anaerobic Exercise

As it turns out, the benefits of anaerobic exercise are very similar to those of aerobic exercise, including a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and type 2 diabetes.

However, the high intensity of anaerobic exercise produces a few additional benefits, such as: 

Despite these additional benefits, the best exercise regimens include a good balance of both aerobic and anaerobic exercises. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, in addition to aerobic exercise. 

Anaerobic Exercise Examples

Examples of anaerobic exercise include any activity that is performed at an intensity that can’t be maintained for a long duration. This includes exercise such as:

  • Sprinting
  • Weightlifting
  • HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)
  • Swimming Sprints
  • Biking at a high intensity

Most sports will involve some combination of both aerobic and anaerobic energy production. For example, in soccer when players are jogging and maintaining a steady pace, it is most likely primarily aerobic. However, during short bursts and sprints throughout the game these same players will utilize their anaerobic system as well.

Any exercise that is done for short, intense periods of time can be anaerobic exercise if your heart rate gets up to 80-90% of your maximum heart rate. An easy rule of thumb is if it leaves you out of breath then it is likely anaerobic.

Aerobic vs Anaerobic Exercise

Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise will benefit your health but depending on your goals, one may be more appropriate. For example, if you are trying to gain muscle then you will likely want to structure an exercise regimen around anaerobic exercises like weight lifting and sprinting. On the other hand, if you are looking for a low impact and relatively easy way to improve your cardiovascular health, aerobic exercise is likely the way to go.

Here is a simplified summary to help you decide which is best for your individual needs.

Aerobic Exercise

  • Low to moderate intensity
  • Longer duration
  • Better for improving endurance

Anaerobic Exercise

  • High intensity
  • Short duration
  • Better for building muscle

Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise will benefit overall health and reduce the risk of chronic disease. In addition, if you are exercising by playing a sport then you will likely be utilizing a combination of each which means the best of both worlds. However, depending on your goals and current level of physical fitness, one may be better than the other.

Talk with a qualified professional to decide what types of exercise and intensity are best for you. Ultimately, you may find that you benefit from a combination of each in your exercise routine.

Regardless of your current level of fitness, exercise is important for people of all ages and levels – especially if you have a chronic condition like rheumatoid arthritis. Talk with your doctor to make sure it is safe before you start any new exercise regimen.

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