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Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise For Weight Loss

Medically reviewed by Priti Parekh, MD, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on January 10, 2023

When it comes to weight loss, you only have a few ways to shed those pounds. Besides adopting a new diet, exercise is a must. But there are so many different workout routines, it can be overwhelming to find one that works for you. To start off, though, you should know the differences between the two main types of exercise: aerobic and anaerobic.


Aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise


Aerobic exercises give you more of an endurance-based workout. They involve doing one repetitive activity for a sustained period of time, such as running, jogging, cycling, or swimming. You’re not pushing yourself to your limit when you do a form of aerobic exercise, because the whole point is to maintain a steady heart rate and breathing rate. Aerobic exercises are called so because they provide oxygen to the muscles. The word “aerobic” literally means “involving oxygen.”


Anaerobic exercises are not performed in a sustained manner. Instead, they’re done in short bursts, or “sets.” But anaerobic exercises, unlike aerobic exercises, force you to work to your limit. Every set should make you reach your breaking point, so to speak. Some examples of anaerobic exercise include weightlifting, sprinting, or high intensity interval training (HIIT).

Anaerobic exercises force your body to use up its oxygen supply and break down glucose instead. Of course, after every set, you rest for a minute or two, and your body begins to replenish its supply of oxygen. The word “anaerobic” means “without oxygen”.


Which type of exercise is better for weight loss?


Both types of exercise can help you lose weight, as well as decrease your risk for many health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, and depression. Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise can lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure, and increase your overall stamina and general health.


But the science appears to be in favor of anaerobic exercise for weight-loss purposes. Anaerobic exercise requires the body to expend more energy and is more physically demanding. Thus, you’ll gain more muscle mass and lose more weight when taking part in anaerobic exercise, in theory. In general, though, it really doesn’t matter what type of exercise you do. You’ll likely lose weight from either one.


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Obesity - Exercise

Obesity - Exercise

However, if you’re not happy with your current weight and you’re looking to start an exercise program, you need to start slow. It can be risky to jump right into a high intensity workout routine, as you may not be physically prepared. Instead, you can try a jogging regimen or lift some light weights and work your way up from there. Working with a personal trainer is probably a good idea, as he or she will be able to help you build a workout plan based on your current fitness level and end goal.


If you’ve decided to get rid of some excess body fat, you’ll get results from both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. But in addition to your workout routine, you’ll also need to make some changes to your diet. With the combination of a healthy diet and a steady fitness regimen, you’ll see those pounds fly off right before your eyes.


Written by Natan Rosenfeld

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