Is There a Difference Between Cardio and Aerobic Exercise?

Stop fretting if you're worried about fitting cardio vs. 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.

Aerobic exercise and cardio are essentially the same. Credit: Martin Novak/Moment/GettyImages

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Aerobic exercise and cardio are essentially the same. These activities increase your breathing and heart rate to deliver more oxygen for sustained periods of exercise.

Cardio vs. Aerobic: Easy Answer

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

Read more:What is the Difference Between Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise?

The Technical Answer

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

If you're still not convinced that cardio and aerobic exercises are one and 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 are part of a long list of aerobic exercises. The intensity and duration of each determines how many calories you burn and the effects on your overall fitness level.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week.

What It Is Not

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, speed training and power training do not fall under the category of cardio or aerobic conditioning. 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. For example, yoga improves range of motion, strength, flexibility and balance, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Read more​: Definition of Aerobic Fitness

However, these other types of exercise can improve your performance during aerobic conditioning. Improved balance and strength can boost your ability to perform aerobic exercise, such as long distance running.

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