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Differences Between Aerobics and Cardio Workouts

written by: Deborah Walstad • edited by: Angela Atkinson • updated: 2/23/2011

While both aerobics and cardio exercise have similar health benefits, the actual terms have distinct meanings. Read on to find out out what each means and learn how you can get the most out of your workouts.

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    fdp exercise In simple terms, cardiovascular exercise, also called cardio, is any exercise that strengthens the cardiovascular system. Aerobic refers to the presence of oxygen. Aerobic exercise is any physical activity that lasts long enough to require the use of oxygen. The terms aerobic and cardio are often used interchangeably, since physical activity affects both.

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    Defining Aerobic Exercise

    The term aerobic means "with oxygen." Your heart, lungs and blood vessels benefit by aerobic exercise as your body works harder to get oxygen to all the muscles. Aerobic exercise is long in duration and low in intensity. Generally, you should target the same large muscle group for at least 15 minutes at 60 to 80% of your maximum heart rate. You should not exercise so hard that it’s hard to breathe, and you should still be able carry on a conversation during your workout.

    Aerobic exercise not only helps you get in shape, it also lowers your risk for several medical conditions, including strengthening bones and muscles. Aerobic exercise can also lower your cholesterol and keeping blood sugar levels, decrease risks of heart disease and diabetes, improve your mood and lower stress levels.

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    Defining Cardio Exercise

    Cardiovascular exercise involves using large muscles to make your heart and lungs stronger. Cardio workouts have a variety of other health benefits, including burning calories, lowering your blood pressure, and promoting weight loss.

    It’s best to keep your target heart rate zone between 50% and 85% of your maximum heart rate to get the best health benefits out of your workout. If you are unsure of your maximum heart rate, here is a formula to get a general estimate.

    For women: 226 - (your age) = your maximum heart rate. For men: 220 - (your age) = your maximum heart rate. For example, if you are a 32 year old woman: 226 - 32 = 194. To get the lower end of your target zone, multiply that number by .5. Then multiply that same number by .85 to get the upper end of your zone. For example, 194 x .5 = 97 and 194 x .85 = 164.9 .

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    How Both Improve Fitness

    Although they are two different things, both cardio exercise and aerobic exercise will improve your fitness. You can't accomplish one without the other. Cardio and aerobic workouts only include those that are sustained for a length of time. Some of these activities include (but are not limited to), running, brisk walking, biking, swimming laps, aerobic dancing, racket sports, rowing, ice skating, roller skating, skiing, water aerobics, ballroom dancing, kickboxing, pilates and step aerobics.

    However you look at it, exercise will lead to a more healthy lifestyle. Particularly, aerobic and cardio activities will prove some of the best benefits for endurance, a stronger heart, lowered heath risks and improved mood.