“What is more important for overall health: cardio or muscle building exercises?”

—James, Raleigh, North Carolina

The best exercises are the ones that promote balance. You probably don’t want to be the body builder who can’t run a mile, or the marathoner who can’t lift 10 pounds. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends both cardio and strength training (muscle building) exercises to improve overall health. So what’s the difference between the two, and how can you incorporate them into your routine?

Aerobic exercise

What we commonly call “cardio” is actually aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise gives the heart and lungs a continuous workout. Aerobic activities tend to move your large muscle groups such as your arms, legs, and hips. This gets your heart pumping and your lungs taking faster, deeper breaths. Aerobic exercise also causes your body to release endorphins, natural chemicals that make you feel good.

Some examples of aerobic activities include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Running or jogging
  • Biking
  • Dancing
Anaerobic exercise

Anaerobic exercises tend to build and tone muscles, and usually involve faster, more intense movements than aerobic exercises. After an anaerobic workout, your body will continue to use more energy reserves than it would after an aerobic workout, even when your body is at rest.

Some examples of anaerobic activities are:

  • Baseball
  • Tennis
  • Weightlifting
  • Sprinting

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that teens get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, which should include a mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Try to sprinkle in both types of activities throughout your day so that you can reap the health benefits of each.