The difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise is in the type of metabolic process that the body uses during the activity. Aerobic means "with oxygen," so the two types of exercise differ in whether the body needs to use oxygen to generate energy. Doing aerobic exercise uses more endurance than anaerobic exercise and is performed for longer periods of time, while anaerobic is more intense and practiced in shorter bursts of energy. Aerobic exercise includes such activities as jogging, swimming, and cycling, while anaerobic exercise includes weight-lifting and sprinting.
Both types of exercise produce energy through glycolysis, the conversion of glucose into pyruvate. While aerobic exercise uses oxygen to break down glucose, anaerobic exercise uses phosphocreatine, stored in the muscles, or breaks down glucose without the help of oxygen. The phosphocreatine system is mainly used for activities under 30 seconds in duration, while anaerobic glycolysis becomes more predominant for longer activities.
Anaerobic glycolysis is not as efficient as the aerobic variety, which is why it cannot be sustained for as long. It also causes the buildup of lactic acid in the bloodstream. In general, anaerobic exercise can be performed for up to two minutes, though with training, it can be sustained for a longer period. Aerobic exercise, on the other hand, should be performed at moderate intensity for at least 20 minutes for the best results, along with brief warm-up and cool-down periods of reduced intensity.
Aerobic and anaerobic exercise are both important parts of a fitness regimen. The first helps strengthen the heart and the muscles involved in respiration, improves circulation and oxygen transport in the body, reduces blood pressure, and burns fat. The second helps build strength and muscle mass and can increase the basal metabolic rate, allowing the body to burn calories more effectively when at rest. Both types of exercise, therefore, accomplish different and separate goals. A person can have impressive muscle mass, yet perform poorly in endurance activities such as long-distance running, and vice versa.