Aerobic vs. Anaerobic

The terms aerobic and anaerobic are not only used when talking about processing and cleaning wastewater, as discussed in the story Turning Wastewater Into Energy. These words can also apply to exercise.

In both cases, the words are referring to the amount of oxygen being used to perform an activity. During aerobic exercise, just as in cleaning wastewater, there is enough oxygen available to continue the current level of activity without getting additional energy from another source.

During anaerobic exercise, there is not enough oxygen to supply the energy demands of your muscles and so the body needs to get energy from another source. The solution? Your muscles begin to break down sugars.

Here’s an even easier way to think about it. Aerobic exercise is a lighter activity that you can keep doing over a longer period of time. Activities such as walking, cycling or jogging fit into this. It’s exercise, because you are still getting your heart rate going, but it’s not intense activity. Aerobic exercise increases your endurance and cardiac health while also helping to burn fat.

Anaerobic exercise is a quick burst of activity for a short period, such as a sprint or weight lifting. Anaerobic exercise will not only help you burn fat, but also help you gain lean muscle mass.

As you can guess, the best workout program incorporates both forms of exercise. The cardio portion of the workout incorporates aerobic exercise while strength training is anaerobic and will help develop lean muscle that burns more fat.

— Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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