If you’re engaged in a regular exercise program, good for you. Many people don’t even get to that step, and you should be proud of yourself.
However, you need both anaerobic and aerobic exercise to be truly healthy. And in fact, not all forms of vigorous exercise are actually aerobic, even though you might think so.
Let’s look at the definition of anaerobic versus aerobic exercise, and how each differs from the other.
Aerobic exercise incorporates the word aerobic, which means with oxygen. And aerobic exercise utilizes the word anaerobic, which means without oxygen.
It doesn’t mean that anaerobic exercise doesn’t let you breathe oxygen and aerobic exercise does, because of course, you would perish pretty quickly if you couldn’t get oxygen when you were doing any kind of exercise.
Rather, what it means is that the tissues in your body either do need oxygen to produce energy, or don’t. Therefore, aerobic exercise means that you need to get continuous and large amounts of oxygen in order to generate energy. Anaerobic exercise does not require this.
Another way to put this is that during aerobic exercise, you sustain your activity for long enough that you require large amounts of oxygen to continue. With running, for example (an aerobic activity), your muscles utilize oxygen to burn fat, and they use glucose to make what is called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. ATP is the basic energy transport for all the cells in your body.
When you first begin to do aerobic exercise, glycogen turns into glucose. If the glucose stores in your body become low, your body begins to utilize fat as fuel. And in fact, the often noted runner’s high begins when muscles have used up glycogen stores that are readily available and begin to use only oxygen.
This releases endorphins in the brain, otherwise known as feel-good hormones. This is another reason exercise is so beneficial, because regularly releasing endorphins during exercise improves mood.
In contrast to aerobic exercise, the basic definition of anaerobic exercise is that your muscles do not need oxygen to accomplish the physical activity you’re undertaking. Instead of using oxygen, your muscles use glycogen for their power.
Glycogen comes from blood sugar, which comes from the liver; the liver makes it from dietary amino acids and carbohydrates. The best sources for these carbohydrates, of course, are healthy foods such as whole grains.
Anaerobic exercise such as weight lifting does not require large amounts of oxygen because the activity itself is very brief and intense. Because of this, instead of using oxygen, the muscles use glycogen.
You need both aerobic and anaerobic exercise for good health. Aerobic exercise is good for your body because it gives you overall toning and strengthens your cardiovascular system. This, in turn, can lower blood pressure and improve circulation. It can also make your heart stronger, which in turn boosts its pumping efficiency and lowers your resting heart rate.
Other benefits of aerobic exercise include an increased red blood cell count, which means that you transport oxygen much more efficiently throughout your body. You also reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Anaerobic exercise has its own benefits, and this is why you need some of each type of exercise (anaerobic and aerobic) in your exercise program. Anaerobic exercise helps keep muscles fit and strong (especially as you age, when they tend to atrophy with lack of use) and it can give a stronger bones.
This is especially important for women who are at risk for osteoporosis as they age. In addition, your speed and general power for daily activities is going to increase, and you are going to have increased muscle mass and strength.
How can you tell when you’re doing anaerobic exercise versus aerobic exercise?
Anaerobic exercise utilizes brief and intense activities, such as weight lifting.
Aerobic exercise is of much longer duration, where you get your heart rate up moderately, but you keep it there for a relatively long period of time (such as when you run), and stay there at a steady pace while you perform your activity. Other types of aerobic exercise include swimming, cross-country skiing, and riding a bicycle.
Examples of anaerobic exercise also includes sprinting, running, jumping, biking, stair-step and hill climbing, and isometrics. The key here is that the activity is brief and intense, not relatively moderate in intensity and extended in duration.
Because it’s so important to get both of these types of activity built into your day, you might think this is a difficult thing to do. But it’s not.
You can start by taking a short walk in the morning (depending on current level of health and activity, you can start with as little as five minutes) and build up from there.
To get some anaerobic activity into your day, purchase a small set of hand weights to start (or utilize easy-to-wear wrist or ankle weights) and sit there and lift weights while you watch TV.
As you become more fit, you can engage in other types of exercise, such as swimming, rowing, and the like. Regardless of your health and fitness level, though, almost anyone can engage in some type of exercise program with both of these activities involved.
Be sure to check with your physician and make sure that you are
healthy enough to undertake an exercise program. He or she can also give
you some suggestions as to what types
of activities will
be best for you given your current health status.
Beyond that, of course, a healthy lifestyle is essential. Your diet should be nutritious and well-balanced, with lots of healthy foods. It should minimize junk foods or eliminate them, and make such innocuous parts of our American diet as fast food a rare treat, if present in it at all.
And of course, get enough sleep and drink enough water. A good multivitamin and mineral supplement is also a good idea. Along with exercise, your body needs to have the proper fuel to function at its best.
And that’s it. Start slowly, build some anaerobic and aerobic exercise into your day, and maintain a healthy diet as well. Soon, you’ll be looking and feeling much better.