Differences Between Aerobic and Non-Aerobic Exercises

Exercise has great benefits for the body and mind. It should be an integral part of keeping oneself healthy. A balanced exercise regimen should include various types of exercises. 

However, the intensity and frequency of doing the exercises depend on your age, fitness level, disability status, and your personal fitness goals. 

Two primary categories of exercise are aerobic and non-aerobic or anaerobic exercises. 

These types of exercises included strategically in your regimen can serve your body in numerous ways. 

So, without further ado, let’s look at both and highlight the differences and similarities.

Aerobic and non-aerobic exercise— Differences

Before diving deep into details, let’s have a bird’s eye view of these two exercise types. 

Both exercises differ on the basis of how they use the body’s stored energy, their primary source of energy, the intensity of the exercise, and the length of time a person can maintain the activity.

Aerobic exercises are known for longer durations and rhythmic movements and are less strenuous. Whereas anaerobic exercises include small bouts of energetic and intense spells of physical activity. 

Aerobic and non-aerobic exercise— similarities

Both of these exercise types are good for the cardiovascular system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), doing either can reduce the risk for the following conditions:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cancers
  • Heart disease

Apart from that, these exercises also produce mental health benefits. 

Aerobic exercise is also recommended when you are recovering from stress and depression. Highly acclaimed recovery centers, like the Palm Beach Institute, help people overcome substance-related anxiety and depression through aerobic exercise recommendations that are included in their treatment plans. 

But even if you don’t have any mental health issues, you should still include a thirty-minute aerobic exercise session into your daily regime. 

Below, we will now discuss both types in detail. 

Aerobic exercises

Aerobic exercises are exercises that strengthen the heart and the lungs. The essence of this exercise type is apparent in the way it is named. The word “aerobic” means oxygen, and performing aerobic activity means you use up more oxygen throughout the activity. 

When you exercise, your muscles move constantly. As a result, they need more oxygen. The inhaled oxygen is carried to your muscles through the blood. 

You start to feel your heart rate increase during an aerobic exercise session.  Even the smaller blood vessels in your body get dilated to carry more oxygen to the bigger muscle groups such as hips, arms, and legs. 

Aerobic exercise types

Most of you might already be doing aerobic exercises. Experts recommend that the length of an aerobic exercise session should be at least 30 minutes long and must be repeated at least three to seven times a week. 

Aerobic exercises include:

  • Jogging
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Cycling 
  • Jumping rope
  • Playing Frisbee
  • Skiing
  • Brisk walking
  • Using cardio machines, such as elliptical and treadmill

Health benefits of aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercises rev up the heart rate and breathing and boost blood circulation. Better circulation ensures that all your body receives sufficient nutrients. 

Apart from strengthening your heart, other potential benefits of aerobic exercise include:

  • Reduced fatigue and increased stamina
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Increases the levels of good cholesterol
  • Reduces the levels of bad cholesterol
  • Stimulates the immune system
  • Slows bone density loss
  • Improved mood
  • Improved sleep

A 2015 study also found that regular aerobic exercise sessions reduce a person’s mortality risk. The study’s results also suggested that people who jogged for one to 2.4 hours in over two to three runs per week had a lower mortality risk than people who did not exercise. 

But the same study also found that people who engaged in strenuous jogging appeared to carry the same risk of mortality as those who did not exercise. 

It implies that moderate jogging has better health effects than intense jogging sessions.

However, regardless of the health benefits of aerobic exercise, consult your doctor before starting it if you have been inactive for some time. 

Also, start slowly and gradually move to a more rigorous routine to limit the risk of injury.  

Non-aerobic or anaerobic exercise

Anaerobic exercise includes short but intense bursts of physical activity. Unlike aerobic exercises, in an anaerobic exercise, oxygen is not the primary source of energy for your body. Instead, it relies on stored energy, such as the breaking down of glucose for fuel. 

In the process, anaerobic activity leads to the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles. 

Any activity carried for longer than sixty seconds in duration requires oxygen to burn carbs or fat to release energy. 

But, in the case of anaerobic exercises, the burst of physical activity are usually less than sixty seconds and last for ten to fifteen seconds as these powerful movements cannot be sustained for much longer. 

Anaerobic exercise types

The primary purpose of anaerobic exercises is to build muscle mass. Therefore, when you indulge in aerobic exercise for a few months, your muscles swell due to hypertrophy. This change occurs because your cardiac and skeletal muscles constantly experience stimuli. Muscles increase in diameter to amass more structural contractile proteins. 

Some examples of anaerobic exercises include:

  • Weightlifting
  • Squats
  • Jumps
  • Plyometric
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT)  
  • Sprinting

Health benefits of anaerobic exercise 

Just like aerobic exercises, non-aerobic exercises have tremendous health benefits. As you might need more energy during the short intervals, you can use anaerobic exercise to lose weight in less time. 

It is excellent for people who have been exercising for longer and want to push through an exercise plateau and achieve new goals. Furthermore, anaerobic exercise helps people gain muscle mass and increase bone density. 

Though this type of exercise has many benefits, it can be hard on your body. On a scale of one to ten of perceived exertion, anaerobic activity can be put at seven or more. 

Therefore, it is typically not recommended to beginners who are just starting out to exercise. If you plan to do anaerobic exercise, work with a fitness professional who can guide you through steps and techniques. 


Exercise positively affects your physical and mental health, regardless of which type you do. However, depending on the type of exercise you do, results could differ. For instance, aerobic exercise primarily improves stamina, reduces fatigue, and improves mood. Whereas, anaerobic exercise increases muscle mass and strength. 

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