Aerobic VS. Anaerobic Exercise: It comes down to oxygen

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When exercise takes place, we are moving our body with the intention to better our health. There are many different ways to work up a sweat, each placing different demands on our heart and activated muscles. The two main forms of cardiovascular activity are aerobic and anaerobic. Selection of either can be influenced by a person’s age, goals, and level of fitness. Either way, we have to make time to move, but maybe knowing what moves are best for you and your body can help you make better, more effective, and informed choices.

Aerobic exercise is done at low to moderate intensity and means “with oxygen”. Walking, jogging, cardio machines like the Elliptical, cycling, and swimming are common modalities.  A person is able to sustain this activity for more than a few minutes as their heart rate is elevated. Regular aerobic activity is beneficial to the heart, improves stroke volume (blood pumping mechanism), and the body becomes more efficient with oxygen use. Activity level still allows you to hold a conversation because becoming breathless is not the goal. The body is moving at a steady state and using slow twitch muscle fibers.

Anaerobic exercise is much more intense, as the participant is working towards their maximum output and effort. This would be like sprinting, which means the duration is much shorter but faster. High intensity interval training (HITT), has become recently popular for this type of exercise. The demand of oxygen is greater than the supply, which means eventually the body is working “without oxygen”.  Then other energy sources are triggered. When there is not enough oxygen, lactic acid builds quickly, which is why anaerobic activities can only last for a short time (at most two minutes). The body then uses glycogen, which equates to carbohydrates.

The best workout involves both styles. Neither type is better for a person than the other. The two compliment one another. Some may claim that aerobic activities are more leisurely and enjoyable whereas anaerobic exercise is more time efficient and demanding on the body. Both burn fat, improve cardiovascular health by strengthening the heart and lungs, prevent cardiovascular diseases, improve immunity, and help us like what we see in the mirror.

Not all exercise is created equal, because every body type is different. The bottom line is that movement is medicine to the body. Find what is enjoyable, doable, and accessible for you. The body is empowered when treated with exercise. The lifestyle of the fit and healthy person makes exercise a priority, no matter what type, treating their body like the temple it is.

Anaerobic Exercise: What You Should Know (healthline.com)

Aerobic vs anaerobic exercise training effects on the cardiovascular system (nih.gov)

‘Aerobic’ and ‘Anaerobic’ terms used in exercise physiology: a critical terminology reflection | Sports Medicine – Open | Full Text (springeropen.com)

Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise: Analyzing the Benefits of Different Forms of Exercise for Adults Diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes (pdx.edu)

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Megan Johnson McCullough owns a fitness studio in Oceanside CA called Every BODY's Fit. She has an M.A. in Physical Education & Health Science, is a current candidate for her Doctorate in Health & Human Performance, and she's an NASM Master Trainer & Instructor. She's also a professional natural bodybuilder, fitness model, Wellness Coach, and AFAA Group Exercise Instructor.