The Difference Between Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise

h_exerciseAt the gym, in fitness magazines and on websites we often encounter two types of exercise. The terms of ‘aerobic’ and ‘anaerobic’ can be confusing. These defining words are related to oxygen – its presence or absence. This element fuels the metabolic processes and the way muscles handle effort depends on the available oxygen. Here is what the two terms refer to and how to distinguish between the two types.

Aerobic or “With Oxygen” Exercise

A workout that is aerobic stimulates the breathing and heart rate, but only to a level that still feels comfortable and doesn’t lead to exhaustion. It is fit for prolonged physical activity. Aerobic means cardio exercise and must not go past a certain intensity. Here are examples of such training: dancing, treadmill walking, jogging or running, kick-boxing, hiking, leisure biking etc. Aerobic exercise improves shape and health and is known to be of great help when striving to maintain a good physical condition, heal or recover from illness.

Oxygen is important in the process of energy production within the body. When we talk of exercise as aerobic exercise, it means that it leads to an increased heart rate and keeps it, with muscle cells contracting without fatigue. It’s at moderate intensity and can last for extended periods of time. Oxygen burns glucose and fat, producing adenosine triphosphate, the main energy carrier for the body cells. When there is no glucose to use, it’s the adipose tissue that gets consumed in order to produce energy, which is why the aerobic workout is recommended for weight loss. People have to be patient with this. The processes don’t happen that quickly. Also, when fat starts to be broken down, overall performance decreases, which is why one must insist with this.

To understand the concept better, think of running. This can be aerobic or anaerobic. Your speed will determine it. A sprint is anaerobic, while running a significant distance at a moderate pace is aerobic, meaning it involves oxygen. The same goes with cycling.

As we train our bodies more, the muscles rely on aerobic metabolism for longer and fatigue is experienced much later. If we keep on increasing the intensity of our workout, then there’s a greater need for energy and this has to be ensured through other processes. Thus the exercising becomes anaerobic. In between, there is the metabolic threshold.

Anaerobic Exercise or ‘Without Oxygen’

Anaerobic refers to brief activities that call for strength. Lifting weights, for example, is one of these, as it engages the muscles in great effort. It’s the type of workout that gets people tired very soon. If you are not in good shape, even climbing stairs can be anaerobic exercise. In non-oxygen conditions, muscle cells no longer have oxygen to rely on for energy production, and therefore have to find an alternative fuel. There will be other chemical reactions and fatigue will be felt sooner. Strength training is anaerobic. Such exercise is used for building muscular mass and strengthening one’s body.


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