5 Ways Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercises Are Different, and Why You Need Both


How are these types of exercises different?

  1. How they use oxygen: By definition, aerobic means “with oxygen” and anaerobic means “without oxygen.” Aerobic exercises require oxygen for fuel; they cause you to breathe faster and more deeply, maximizing the amount of oxygen you can take in. Anaerobic exercises do not rely on oxygen for fuel and do not last as long. With short and intense periods of exercise you can’t take in as much oxygen, so the body ends up producing lactic acid and muscles fatigue more quickly. However, the benefits of anaerobic exercise don’t rely on endurance, so this response isn’t a bad thing.
  1. How long it takes: Aerobic exercises are typically endurance-type exercises that rely on keeping your heart rate steadily elevated over an extended period of time. Anaerobic exercises are typically more intense and involve bursts of energy over short intervals of time.
  1. The rate of your heartbeat: Both exercises get your heart rate up, the difference lies in how high and how steadily. Typically, aerobic exercises have a steady, elevated heart rate that is between 70% and 80% of your maximum heart rate. You will be out of breath, but not so much that you cannot keep up. By contrast, anaerobic exercises can take you up to 80–90% of your maximum heart rate—an intense zone that can only be sustained for shorter periods of time. The higher end of anaerobic training can take you up to 100% of your maximum heart rate. The benefits of this exercise come from what you can accomplish in those bursts of intensity.
  1. How your energy is spent: With aerobic activities, your body uses oxygen to break down carbohydrates and fats for energy. If you have enough fuel and oxygen, at an aerobic intensity you can continue to use your muscles over an extended period of time, and your muscles can continue to contract without needing rest. By contrast, during anaerobic exercises, the body cannot intake enough oxygen to give your body the energy it needs to keep up with the intensity. As you might remember from #1: lactic acid builds up in the muscles, they become fatigued, and you’re left out of breath.
  1. How they benefit you: Aerobic exercises are great for your cardiovascular health. They also serve to improve your mood, mental health, flexibility, weight control, and reduce the risk of diseases. Anaerobic exercises, by contrast, are great for building lean muscle mass and increasing bone density. Being strong at anaerobic exercises helps strengthen the body for aerobic workouts, and vice versa. Both types of exercises are needed for a well-rounded fitness plan for your overall physical and mental health and well-being.

Why should I do both?

It’s important to incorporate both aerobic and anaerobic exercises into your fitness routine in order to strengthen both your cardiovascular system and your spine, muscle, and nervous system. According to the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, people between the ages of 18 and 64 should be getting 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity aerobic exercise per week, along with muscle and bone strengthening activities at least two days out of the week.2 

What types of exercises can I do?

  • Aerobic Exercises: A few simple aerobic exercises that might be familiar to you are runningcycling, brisk walking, dancing, and most fitness classes at your local gym.
  • Anaerobic Exercises: Some common anaerobic exercises that are sure to get your muscles pumping include sprinting, lifting weights, exercising with resistance bands, and interval training.

To better understand what exercises are right for you, contact Dr. Tyler Hunsberger or Dr. Jerry Wright today.


  1. National Health and Fitness Day. Website. http://www.nhfdcan.ca/ Accessed June 5, 2017.
  2. Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. Canadian physical activity guidelines: for adults 18-64 years. http://www.csep.ca/CMFiles/Guidelines/CSEP_PAGuidelines_adults_en.pdf. Accessed June 5, 2017.

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