A person exercises in a gym by lifting weights.

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise: What’s the Difference?

Aerobic and anaerobic exercise both provide significant health and fitness benefits. If you want to add one or both to your fitness routine, it’s helpful to know how they each work and their specific benefits.

The main differences between aerobic and anaerobic exercise are:

  • The intensity of the exercise
  • The way your body uses energy to do the exercise
  • How long you’re able to continue doing the exercise

To help you build your exercise routine and compare aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise, we’ll unpack more details about these differences and help you determine how much of each type of movement you’ll need weekly.

What is aerobic exercise?

Swimming is an example of an aerobic exercise.

Aerobic exercise is any physical activity that requires oxygen to generate energy in the body. There are low-impact and high-impact aerobic exercises, but both involve rhythmically moving your muscles for an extended time.1

Examples of aerobic exercises include:

What are the health benefits of aerobic exercise?

A group of people do an aerobic exercise together: jogging.

Aerobic has plenty of fantastic health benefits. When you do it regularly, it:2

  • Helps increase endurance
  • Improves cardiovascular health
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces your risk of heart disease
  • Increases HDL cholesterol (the good kind of cholesterol)
  • Helps you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight

What is anaerobic exercise?

A man weight trains as a form of anaerobic exercise.

Anaerobic exercise is a high-intensity exercise in which you complete short bursts of activity. Instead of using oxygen to propel your movement, your body uses energy already stored in your muscles, called glucose.

Examples of anaerobic exercises include:

What are the health benefits of anaerobic exercise?

A group of women do an exercise with weights together.

Anaerobic exercise has several great health benefits, too, including:

  • Burning fat
  • Enhancing muscle development
  • Strengthening bones
  • Maintaining muscle mass as you age

Anaerobic exercise is also particularly beneficial for people with diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, it can lower your blood sugar levels during your workout and up to 24 hours after! And the more anaerobic exercise you do, the better your body processes glucose, increasing insulin sensitivity.3

Aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise: What’s the difference?

Two women exercise together outside.

One of the main differences between aerobic and anaerobic exercise is how your body uses energy to do them.

  • With aerobic exercises, your body uses oxygen, carbs, protein, and fat to power your movements.
  • With anaerobic exercise, your body dips into stored glucose for energy.

Aerobic exercises also tend to be lighter activities you can sustain for a longer time, increasing endurance. In contrast, anaerobic exercises are short bursts of high-intensity movement, increasing strength and overall muscle mass.

If you’re building an exercise routine at home, you might wonder, “Which is better: aerobic or anaerobic exercise?” Or, “Which burns more fat?

When comparing aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise, neither form of movement is better than the other! They’re both great for you and necessary for your health and well-being. Including a mixture of both in your daily activities will ensure you have a well-rounded and effective exercise routine.

In terms of fat loss, both aerobic and anaerobic exercises also burn fat and boost your metabolism for hours after your workout. So you’ll reap the fat-busting benefits no matter how you choose to get your workouts in.

Is aerobic or anaerobic exercise better for your heart?

A group of people cycle and run together.

While both types of movement are good for your heart, aerobic exercise is a particularly heart-healthy exercise. It works your cardiovascular system, strengthening your heart and lungs and enhancing your body’s efficiency at fueling oxygen. Since it can also help prevent cardiovascular disease, aerobic exercise might be particularly beneficial for certain people at high risk for heart problems.

However, current research doesn’t indicate that either exercise is superior for heart health.4 So, if your goal is to improve your overall cardiovascular health, your best bet is to do both.

How often should you do aerobic and anaerobic exercise?

A person uses boxing as a form of a workout.

Each person’s individual fitness needs are different, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults need:5

  • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise
  • 2 or more days a week of anaerobic exercise

For example, you might speed walk for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, and complete a 30-minute strength training routine two days weekly.

Or, you could combine high-intensity cycling and moderate-intensity running on two or more days and strength training for at least 2 days each week. Vingo can help make your cycling and running adventures more fun with real-world virtual experiences around the globe and a supportive community!

You can even go above and beyond these recommendations for additional health benefits! Instead of focusing on aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise and which is better, what’s most important is to find a balanced routine of both and ensure it’s enjoyable, sustainable, and effective. 

Are there any risks of aerobic or anaerobic exercise?

A coach helps her client perform HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts.

Generally, the health benefits of aerobic and anaerobic exercise far outweigh the risks. 

However, if you have diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure, you should check with your doctor before starting a new aerobic exercise routine. You may be at risk of experiencing chest pain, dizziness, or heart problems after vigorous exercise. Your doctor will be able to tell you which types of physical activities are best for you and how to ease into them safely.

Additionally, it’s no secret that anaerobic exercise isn’t easy! It would be best to consider hiring a trainer or working with someone more experienced to ensure you’re learning proper form along the way. Doing so will help you prevent injuries.

Key Takeaways:

The desire to compare aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise is common, especially among those who want to maximize their time spent working out. But you need both aerobic and anaerobic exercise to build an effective exercise routine. Although they’re different forms of movement that vary in intensity and duration, they’re both highly effective ways to improve your heart health, shed excess fat, and enhance your overall fitness.

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  1. Professional, C. C. M. (n.d.-a). Aerobic Exercise. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/7050-aerobic-exercise 
  2. Benefits | NHLBI, NIH. (2022, March 24). NHLBI, NIH. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart/physical-activity/benefits 
  3. Anaerobic Exercise and Diabetes | ADA. (n.d.). https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/fitness/anaerobic-exercise-diabetes 
  4. Patel, H., Alkhawam, H., Madanieh, R., Shah, N. N., Kosmas, C. E., & Vittorio, T. J. (2017). Aerobicvsanaerobic exercise training effects on the cardiovascular system. World Journal of Cardiology, 9(2), 134. https://doi.org/10.4330/wjc.v9.i2.134 
  5. Move More; Sit Less. (2023, June 20). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm 

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