Used interchangeably with cardiovascular and endurance training, aerobic exercise is regularly endorsed to promote weight loss, cardiovascular health, diabetes management, immune health, longevity, amongst other things.
But what counts as aerobic activity and how much is recommended to benefit from aerobic fitness? Here is everything you need to know before lacing up those shoelaces!
What Is Aerobic Exercise?
Aerobic is defined as "living, active, or occurring in the presence of oxygen." So in the context of aerobic exercise, oxygen is required to supply the body with energy to sustain the workout.
Simply put, aerobic exercise encourages the heart to work efficiently and move more oxygen-carrying blood. The lungs are then able to take in more oxygen, which strengthens the muscles ability to use it as cardiovascular fitness strengthens.
Unlike anaerobic activity, which is short in duration at high-intensity levels, aerobic activity involves continuous, rhythmic movements of large muscles for at least 20 minutes. During the initial 20 minutes, the body utilizes carbohydrate and its body stores (or known as glycogen) as its primary fuel source. After 20 minutes of constant movement, the body starts to burn body fat to power the muscles and body, also acknowledged as “aerobic fat-burning.”
Aerobic exercise can be completed at home, outside, in the gym, and, well, virtually anywhere. Counted aerobic activities include brisk walking, jogging and running, cycling, dancing, rowing, cardio kickboxing, jumping jacks, skiing, and any other continuous movements that elevates heart rate.
More specifically, aerobic exercise is typically at 55 to 85 percent of a person's maximum heart rate. Calculate max heart rate by subtracting age from 220. So if someone is 30, their max heart rate would be 190 beats per minute.
Even household tasks can count as aerobic exercise, including raking the lawn, washing the car by hand, and cutting the grass with a push lawnmower.
The Benefits of Regular Aerobic Exercise
Regardless of current weight, athletic ability, age, and gender, aerobic exercise supports:
• Weight Loss
Especially when paired with a nutritious diet, aerobic exercise can help you lose weight by burning calories. Complementing with strength training further bares sustainable, long-term weight loss.
• Cardiorespiratory Fitness
Aerobic exercise helps keep heart, lungs, and circulatory systems healthy and lower the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, and stroke.
• Diabetes Management
Not only does weight loss lower the risk of diabetes, but aerobic exercise uses up glucose as energy and makes your cells more sensitive to insulin, thus helping to manage blood sugars.
• Immune Strength
Aerobic exercise boosts the immune system, which makes you less susceptible to illnesses, including the common cold and flu. But if acquired, physically active individuals may be able to fight off illness quicker than those who are sedentary.
• A Good Night’s Rest
Exercise helps you sleep better in multiple fashions, including by inducing sleep cycles, increasing sleep duration, improving sleep quality, and staving against sleep disorders.
• Mental Health
In addition to improving health physically, regular exercise benefits the brain and mental health. Exercise proves to lower depression, increase alertness, boost self-confidence, enhance creativity, and several other mental health benefits.
Aerobic exercise helps maintain independence as you get older, particularly by preserving muscle and bone strength to maintain mobility. Regular physical activity also protects cognition in older adults and may reduce the risk of dementia.
Research shows couch potatoes increase their risk of early death, with even short bouts of movement throughout the day proving to promote longevity and lengthen lifespan.
• Overall Health
Truly, aerobic exercise supports overall health by reducing the risk of many conditions, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stroke and certain types of cancer whilst promoting mental health and extending healthier, happier years of life.
How Much Aerobic Activity is Recommended?
The American Heart Association breaks down aerobic exercise recommendations based on personal goals, including to improve overall heart health and lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
To improve overall cardiovascular health:
• At least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity), which breaks down to 30 minutes a day, five times a week.
• At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
For lowering their blood pressure or cholesterol:
• At least 40 minutes of aerobic exercise of moderate to vigorous intensity three to four times a week to lower the risk for heart attack and stroke.
However, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion reports existing scientific evidence does not allow researchers to say whether the health benefits of 30 minutes on 5 days a week are any different from the health benefits of 50 minutes on 3 days a week. As a result, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans allows a person to accumulate 150 minutes a week in various methods.
That being said, the good news is there is flexibility in exercise patterns and you can decide how to spread your activity out during the week, which is exceptionally desirable to accommodate busy schedules. Exercise is what works best for you and truly, some exercise is always better than going without it!
Getting Started for Your Aerobic Fitness Journey
Everyone has different starting points and today is the day you can begin! But if you have been living a sedentary lifestyle for an extensive stint of time or managing a health condition, it is recommended to obtain the go-ahead from your doctor to ensure the upmost safety.
Following their approval, start small and set reachable goals, especially if you do not think you can make it for the 30 to 40 minutes of exercise. For instance, make it a point to walk for 10 minutes each morning and progressively increase duration and intensity as you feel stronger.
Also have fun exploring various aerobic exercises to keep interest high, as falling in love with physical activity inspires a lifetime of aerobic fitness. Getting a workout buddy or working out in group settings can keep exercise fun and spark motivation.