Aerobic Exercise

What is aerobic exercise?

Any form of repetitive, rhythmic exercise that uses your large muscles, makes you breathe faster, and gets your heart going is aerobic exercise. When you are doing aerobic exercise, your lungs work harder to bring in more oxygen. And your heart pumps harder to send blood with more oxygen to your muscles. Aerobic exercise increases endurance and helps your body use oxygen more effectively. It makes your lungs, heart, and muscles stronger.

Some examples of aerobic exercise are:

  • bicycling
  • climbing stairs
  • cross-country skiing
  • dancing
  • ice skating or roller skating
  • jogging
  • jumping rope
  • playing tennis
  • swimming
  • walking briskly.

Another type of exercise called anaerobic exercise is sudden, strenuous activity such as weight lifting. It is done to strengthen muscles and make them bigger. Anaerobic exercise stops often and does not require you to bring as much oxygen into your body. Aerobic activity is much better for building up fitness and endurance because it makes your heart stronger.

Why is aerobic exercise important?

Aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and improves circulation and muscle tone. It also:

  • Decreases your blood pressure, which reduces your risk for having a stroke.
  • Decreases your resting heart rate, which puts less stress on your heart.
  • Increases the levels of HDL (the good cholesterol in your blood).
  • Increases your cardiac output, which means your heart pumps more blood with each heartbeat.
  • Decreases your resting respiratory rate, which means your lungs don't work as hard when you are at rest.
  • Increases blood flow to your lungs, which helps you to get more oxygen.
  • Burns calories, which will help you lose weight.

The more fit you are, the better your body can function and the more stresses it can withstand. This is especially important as you get older. You will also look and feel better.

Do I have to go to special classes to learn aerobic exercise?

Any regular, moderate activity, such as three 10-minute walks a day, reduces your risk of death from heart disease. Special classes are not necessary, but they can be lots of fun. They can be a good way to get started if you've never done much exercise before, if you don't really like exercise, or if you prefer group activities.

Aerobics classes combine exercises that help you stretch, burn fat, and build muscles. These exercises are often performed to music, like dancing. You will learn how to stretch your muscles before and after exercising and how to warm up before your workout and cool down afterward.

Many health, fitness, and recreational centers offer a variety of aerobics classes for all ages and fitness levels. In low-impact aerobics classes, the exercise is done at a slow pace so that it is easy to do. It is good for people just starting an exercise program. Intermediate classes are for people who are active and need a higher exercise level to improve and maintain their fitness. The advanced classes, also called high-impact, are for fit people who want a hard workout.

Daily walking is the most practical exercise for many people. You don't need a special place, special equipment, or special clothes. You don't need an instructor or group leader. Start slowly. Work up to at least a mile a day. Walk as far and as fast as is comfortable for you. The more fit you become, the more you will enjoy your exercise.

What about target heart rates?

While you are doing aerobic exercise, you should keep your heart rate up. To make sure you are benefiting from your exercise, you may find it helpful to check your heart rate (pulse) during your workout. You need to set a target heart rate for yourself so that you can make sure you are exercising hard enough to help your heart, yet easy enough for you to complete the exercise safely. The goal is to maintain your target heart rate during your exercise for at least 30 minutes. You can also use your target heart rate to check your progress over time.

To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. Your target heart rate is between 50% and 85% of your maximum heart rate.

If you exercise moderately every day and feel good doing it, there's no need to be overly concerned with your target heart rate.

How much and how often should I exercise?

For health and fitness, regular exercise is much more important than strenuous exercise. Choose an exercise routine that you know you will be able to keep up.

With your healthcare provider's approval, your goal should be 30 to 90 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a day, most days of the week. Moderate aerobic exercise is generally defined as requiring about the energy it takes to walk 2 miles in 30 minutes. Aim for daily moderate exercise. This is healthier and less likely to cause injury than intensive exercise done just once in a while.

Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before you start your exercise program.

Developed by Ann Carter, MD, for RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
© 2012 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.