Harvard Health Letter

Glossary of exercise terms

If you're considering starting an exercise regimen, all the jargon you're likely to encounter can be intimidating. Should your exercise be aerobic or anaerobic, isotonic or isometric? What's a MET, and do you need to know your BMR and your VO2 max? To ease any linguistic anxiety, here's a quick review of some common exercise terms and concepts.

Aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise

Exercise falls into two general categories: aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic exercise is muscle movement that uses oxygen to burn both carbohydrates and fats to produce energy, while anaerobic exercise is muscle movement that does not require oxygen and only burns carbohydrates to produce energy.

In practice, aerobic exercise means activities such as walking, bicycling or swimming that temporarily increase your heart rate and respiration. Aerobic exercise (also known as cardiovascular exercise) builds your endurance.

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