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How to Tell the Difference Between Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise

written by: Cheryl Gabbert • edited by: KJ Fitness,Ink • updated: 6/29/2009

If you're new to the whole fitness thing, you've probably heard some strange words being used in exercise circles. It's likely that you've heard the words "aerobic" and "anaerobic" used around the gym at one time or another. Here's the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

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    Aerobic Exercise

    Most everyone has heard the term "aerobic exercise" before, but do you really know what it means? Aerobic means "with air". Aerobic exercise is any form of exercise that causes you to breathe harder. During aerobic exercise, we breathe faster and our heart beats faster too, so that more blood can flow to our muscles and then back to lungs to get oxygen. Think of how you feel when you run for a period of time. You can feel a faster heartbeat and it may be hard to carry on a conversation. If you take your pulse rate, it will be much faster during aerobic exercise than when you are at rest. Some common forms of aerobic exercise are walking, jogging, running, swimming, cycling, jumping rope, and aerobic dancing.

    Aerobic exercise works our heart and lungs, making them stronger. You'll improve the blood flow to all parts of your body, and your heart will actually beat slower at rest when it's in good condition. Aerobic exercise also helps lower your blood pressure and control your blood sugar. People who perform aerobic exercise regularly are less likely to suffer chronic health conditions. You'll enjoy a better mood too.

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    Anaerobic Exercise

    The difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise is that with anaerobic exercise, the body's demand for oxygen is more than the supply. The word anaerobic means "without air". The muscles use glycogen instead of oxygen during this type of training. Lactic acid builds up in the muscle, and that's what you feel when your muscles begin to burn as they become exhausted. Anaerobic exercise tires you out much faster than aerobic exercise. It fatigues your muscles, but doesn't necessarily make you breathe hard. Anaerobic exercise is a short term activity. You can't sustain this type of exercise for long. Lifting heavy weights, climbing, performing calisthenics like push-ups, chin-ups, and sit-ups are all forms of anaerobic exercise.

    The benefits of anaerobic exercise include building muscle and strength. You'll increase your metabolism by performing anaerobic forms of exercise. With anaerobic exercise, you'll build the power it takes to perform strenuous activities and sports. Anaerobic exercise helps us perform the activities of daily life with greater ease. Those who strength train can even avoid the muscle wasting process of aging.

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