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What's the Difference Between Anaerobic and Aerobic Exercise?

A simple guide to the two types of training

Whilst there are many different types of exercise, they all fall into one of two categories: aerobic or anaerobic exercise. But what do they each mean, and what are the pros and cons of each? Here, we explain.

Aerobic exercise

Essentially this is ‘cardio’, or it can take the longer name of ‘cardiovascular exercise’. During aerobic exercise, oxygen is the preferred energy source. This type of training tends to take place over a longer period of time and causes your heart rate to rise and your breathing to become faster and harder.

When you think of aerobic exercise, think of long runs, cycling, brisk walking, hiking, rowing...in fact, if you picture any of the cardio machines, then you’re on the right track.

Anaerobic exercise

The opposite of aerobic exercise is anaerobic and actually translates to ‘without oxygen’. This type of training is hard, fast and short. Instead of oxygen being the primary energy source, when you’re taking part in anaerobic exercise, glucose is broken down for immediate, fast energy.

Think of sprints, weight lifting, High Intensity Interval Training and short boxing intervals; quite the opposite to the steady, prolonged aerobic exercise.

Which is best for me?

There’s pros and cons to both aerobic and anaerobic exercise:

  • Anaerobic exercise is generally seen as the best training for muscle training and bone strengthening. It’s also known to be good for weight loss. However, because of the intensity of anaerobic training, it’s not usually something that should be done every day, as it can be quite a burden on the body. Some types of anaerobic training can also place a lot of stress on joints and muscles; think of jumping exercises - doing these continually can be quite jarring for our knees, hips and ankles!
  • Aerobic exercise is great for heart and lung health. In fact, it’s great for anyone who is new to exercise as it builds up stamina and endurance. Aerobic exercise is also actively encouraged as a way to help avoid illnesses including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Plus, it’s great for improving a bad mood - try heading out for a walk when you’re feeling stressed, anxious or angry; you might just feel better!

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