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Blog > Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise: The Benefits of Each and How They’re Different

Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise: The Benefits of Each and How They’re Different

From heart rate to HIIT, here’s how you can improve your workouts with both exercises.
Group of people doing side stretches in an indoor fitness class, following an instructor

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Sure, you’ve heard of aerobic exercise, and you probably know it gets your heart rate up. You bounce up and down, your heart pounds, you sweat, then you’re all done and feeling great.

But what is anaerobic exercise? And why should you be interested?

Why We Love Both Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise is an activity that gets your heart rate up for several minutes at a time. Aerobic exercise can include swimming, walking, running, or cycling.

The word “aerobic” means “with oxygen.” In aerobic exercise, you consume more oxygen and your heart pumps more blood to distribute this oxygen throughout your body.

“Anaerobic” means “without oxygen.” This isn’t to say that your body doesn’t need and use oxygen for anaerobic exercise, but rather that you do the exercise in short bursts.

Anaerobic exercise includes sprinting, weightlifting, or engaging in other activities in which your body uses intense, quick bursts of energy to fuel performance. Usually, people who use anaerobic exercises only maintain this level of intensity for about 10 to 30 seconds but repeat the exercises again and again during a workout. Many trainers design high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts based on anaerobic exercises.

Which One Is Better? Aerobic or Anaerobic Exercise?

The most effective workouts draw on both aerobic and anaerobic exercises. While this combination of exercises comes with some excellent health benefits, doing both aerobic and anaerobic exercise is not a requirement for individuals who want to get fit.

If your current activity level includes little exercise overall, then either aerobic or anaerobic exercise is better than no exercise at all. If you want to get specific about your health and wellness goals, then it’s a good idea to look at the benefits of combining aerobic and anaerobic exercises in your routine.


READ: Overcome the 5 Reasons You Might Not Exercise


The Case for Benefits of Aerobic Exercise

If you enjoy swimming, running, walking, cycling, or hiking, you enjoy aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise:

  • Improves cardiovascular health: Aerobic exercise is one of the first treatments the American Heart Association recommends for people who have, or are at risk for, heart disease. This is because aerobic exercise strengthens your heart and helps it pump blood throughout the body more efficiently.
  • Lowers blood pressure: In many cases, aerobic activity can be a more effective way to lower blood pressure than medication. (But this is never an excuse to skip your meds—talk to your doctor about that first.)
  • Helps regulate blood sugar: Blood sugar regulation is essential for people who have diabetes or are at risk for it. Regular aerobic exercise can help these individuals regulate and lower their insulin levels and blood sugar.
  • Reduces asthma symptoms: If you have asthma, you should always check with your doctor before trying a new aerobic exercise. However, studies have shown that some aerobic activity can help reduce the inflammatory proteins in people with asthma.
  • Aids sleep: Cardiovascular exercise has been shown to help aid in sleep quality as well. Exercising too close to bedtime may make it more difficult to sleep, however. Try to finish your workout at least two hours before bedtime.
  • Regulates weight: Aerobic exercise is a popular aid in weight loss due to the number of calories many people burn during cardiovascular activities. By cutting calories while also maintaining a regular aerobic workout, many people are able to reduce the amount of exercise they need to perform in order to lose the same amount of weight.
  • Strengthens your immune system: Researchers at Pennsylvania State University examined active and sedentary women and the impact of exercise on their immune systems. The results showed that regular and moderate aerobic exercise increases certain antibodies in the blood called immunoglobulins that ultimately strengthen the immune system. The sedentary group of women noticed no improvement in immune system function and their cortisol levels were much higher than those in the active groups.


READ: How Stress Can Strengthen the Immune System


The Case for Benefits of Anaerobic Exercise

While anaerobic exercise may seem more intense and challenging, anaerobic routines are shorter than aerobic routines. HIIT workouts, sprinting, heavy weightlifting, and other anaerobic exercises can:

  • Increase bone strength and density: Anaerobic activity, such as resistance training and weight lifting, can increase the strength and density of your bones. This activity is especially important for women over 40 who may experience a decrease in bone density.
  • Support weight maintenance: Anaerobic activity has been shown to help many people maintain a healthy weight. HIIT training, especially, has been shown to result in decreased subcutaneous and abdominal body fat.
  • Boost metabolism: As you work to build and maintain lean muscle, anaerobic exercise can boost your metabolism. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn during your next sweat session. High-intensity exercise is also thought to increase your post-workout calorie burn.
  • Fight depression: Studies have shown that anaerobic exercise, such as strength training, can boost your mood and can even help some people fight off depression.
  • Reduce risk of disease: By developing strength and bone density through high-intensity anaerobic training, such as body weight squats and push-ups, you can reduce your risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to a 2007 study by Canada’s McMaster University’s kinesiology department. 
  • Protect joints: By building your muscle strength and muscle mass, your joints will be better protected, meaning you’ll have greater protection against injury.
  • Improve energy: Consistent anaerobic exercise increases your body’s ability to store glycogen (what your body uses as energy), giving you more energy for your next bout of intense physical activity, and thus improving your athletic ability.


The Bottom Line

A combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercises is a good way to balance the benefits of both—though you’ll want to consult an expert to help you design a plan based on your body’s specific needs.

Although any exercise is better than no exercise, you’ll want to be as strategic about your workout as you are about your career so that you maximize your return on your “exercise investment.” To get started on a more personalized plan to improve your health, consider consulting with a coach or trainer.

Arootah coaches are experts at helping you create quality decisions to support your life. Schedule a call with them to get the highest return on the time you set aside for yourself.



Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be and should not be taken as professional medical, psychological, legal, investment, financial, accounting, or tax advice. Arootah does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or suitability of its content for a particular purpose. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read in our newsletter, blog or anywhere else on our website.

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