Is There a Difference Between Cardio and Aerobic Exercise?

Is There a Difference Between Cardio and Aerobic Exercise?
Is There a Difference Between Cardio and Aerobic Exercise? (Image: takoburito/iStock/GettyImages)

Stop fretting if you think you cannot possibly fit both cardio and aerobic exercise into your busy schedule. When you're doing cardio, you're exercising aerobically. The terms are interchangeable and the exercises provide the same benefits, although the words stem from different origins.

Easy Answer

I love working out at the gym
Gym machines offer a way to fit in your 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio weekly. (Image: Antonio_Diaz/iStock/Getty Images)

Aerobic exercise and cardio exercise are the same thing. Both terms refer to exercise that achieves the identical results: improved fitness by increasing both your oxygen intake and heart rate. When you increase your respiratory rate by moving the large muscles of the body, your heart pumps harder and faster. "Cardio" and "aerobic" are synonymous with the concept of endurance exercise.

Technical Answer

Trail running
Running and jogging builds stamina. (Image: Estudi M6/iStock/Getty Images)

If you want to get technical about the terms, they do have different etymologies and definitions, even though the two types of exercise achieve the same results. Aerobic refers to oxygen intake, with the term “aerobic” stemming from the Greek “with oxygen.” Cardio refers to your heart, stemming from the Latin “cor” and Greek “kardia.” Thus aerobic exercise is defined as exercise that promotes a greater oxygen intake and cardio exercise is exercise that promotes a greater heart rate.

But, when you raise your heart rate, your oxygen intake automatically increases and vice versa. While "cardio" and "aerobic" are technically different, they happen simultaneously and cannot be separated. When you perform a cardio workout, you're working aerobically.

Types of Cardio

Men's swimming.
Swimming provides a good aerobic and cardiovascular workout. (Image: myrainjom01/iStock/Getty Images)

If you’re still not convinced cardio and aerobic exercises are one in the same, check out some examples. Swimming, jogging, running, walking, dancing, bicycling, playing tennis and other activities that keep you moving for a sustained period provide an aerobic and cardio workout. The intensity and duration of each determines how many calories you burn and the effects on your overall fitness level.

What It Is Not

Lotus
Yoga isn't considered aerobic or cardiovascular exercise. (Image: Denis Raev/iStock/Getty Images)

On the flip side of the mat, so to speak, certain workouts do not fall into the category of aerobic or cardio exercise. Although you may experience a quick burst of oxygen or briefly raise your heart rate, these activities are not sustained for long enough to qualify as aerobic. Weight lifting and other strength training, yoga and other flexibility training, speed training and power training are not aerobic or cardio. Such activities improve your overall fitness in ways aerobic and cardio exercises do not, but their primary goal is not to increase your respiratory and cardiovascular endurance.

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