Nearly everybody has heard the terms "aerobic" and "anaerobic" used in the context of fitness, but not everybody understands the difference. Things get even less clear once you understand that all aerobic exercises offer some anaerobic benefits, and vice versa.
Aerobic versus Anaerobic
"Aero" as a prefix comes from the Greek for "air." Aerobic fitness is the health and efficiency of your body's air circulation system: your heart. Aerobic exercises are those that increase your heart rate for an extended period. Anaerobic exercises are those that build muscles other than your heart. Although these still technically involve air, they are not directly part of your cardiovascular system -- and are thus labeled "anaerobic."
Aerobic exercises are also called cardiovascular exercise, the kind that get your heart pumping and your breath coming short. Examples of aerobic exercise include running, swimming, cross-country skiing and many group fitness classes. According to fitness resource website Nutristrategy.com, aerobic exercises burn calories more effective than anaerobic exercises and are your best choice if exercising to lose weight.
Aerobic Fitness Benefits
Working your heart out regularly makes for a healthier heart, notes Dr. Mehmet Oz in "You: The Owner's Manual." Regular aerobic exercise, even a brisk daily walk, can significantly reduce your likeliness of contracting heart disease and other circulatory illnesses. The weight-loss that often accompanies aerobic fitness also puts you at lower risk for type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer.
Anaerobic workouts are also called "resistance training." These workouts push your muscles to work against above-average resistance to strengthen the muscles. Weight lifting, calisthenics and yoga are examples of resistance workouts. Because anaerobic workouts target muscle growth, they are the best choice if your fitness goals center on strength, or muscle mass.
Anaerobic Fitness Benefits
Muscles protect your body -- and stronger muscles protect your body more efficiently. In "Strong Women Stay Young," Dr. Miriam Nelson writes that muscles provide armor for your body in a fall or jostle, and provide support that protects your joints from wearing out. Other benefits of strong, toned muscles include sports performance and improved self-esteem.