What is aerobic exercise?
Aerobic exercise provides cardiovascular conditioning. The term aerobic actually means "with oxygen," which means that breathing controls the amount of oxygen that can make it to the muscles to help them burn fuel and move.
Benefits of aerobic exercise
- Improves cardiovascular conditioning
- Decreases risk of heart disease
- Lowers blood pressure
- Increases HDL or "good" cholesterol
- Helps to better control blood sugar
- Assists in weight management and/or weight loss
- Improves lung function
- Decreases resting heart rate
It is recommended that you talk with your physician before you start an exercise program. Ask what, if any, limitations you may have. People who suffer from diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, pulmonary conditions, or other health conditions may need additional safety guidelines for exercise.
Note: If you develop symptoms during exercise including, but not limited to, unusual shortness of breath; tightness in the chest; chest, shoulder, or jaw pain; lightheadedness; dizziness; confusion; or joint pain, you should stop exercising immediately and contact your physician.
What are some examples of aerobic exercise?
Lower impact aerobic exercise includes:
- Using an elliptical trainer
- Using an upper body ergometer (a piece of equipment that provides a cardiovascular workout that targets the upper body only)
Higher impact aerobic exercise includes:
- Jumping rope
- Performing high impact routines or step aerobics
How often and for how long should I do these exercises?
The American Heart Association recommends that everyone reach a minimum of 30 minutes of some form of cardiovascular exercise 5 to 7 days per week. This can be broken up into 10-minute time periods. This means that taking 3 walks of 10 minutes each would let you reach the recommended minimum guideline for reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. You would also burn the same number of calories as you would if you walked for the full 30 minutes at 1 time.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a minimum of 3 sessions of 30 minutes of the total should be made up of moderate to vigorous exercise to improve cardio-respiratory fitness and help manage weight.
It is appropriate to do aerobic exercise every day. There is no need to rest in between sessions unless you are at an extreme level of training, such as preparing for a marathon, or if you experience reoccurring joint pain. If joint pain is a limiting factor, it would be appropriate to alternate less painful exercises with those that may cause joint pain or to discontinue the painful exercise altogether.
Explanation of intensity
The intensity is determined by how hard you are working. The intensity of the exercise is determined by what your goals are, what limitations you have, and your current fitness level.
Heart rate and exercise
Your heart rate increases in direct correlation with the intensity of the exercise. Heart rate levels can vary significantly from one person to another based on fitness level, genetics, environment, and exercise tolerance. If you wish to train based on heart rate, contact your health care provider to determine what the appropriate range is for you. Some medications, most often blood pressure drugs, control heart rate, making it impossible to determine exercise intensity in this way. Ask your physician to determine if you are on any of these medications.
Monitoring intensity in other ways
How can you know if you are working in the right intensity? Using an RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) chart can help you to determine the appropriate intensity. The scale uses a 1 to 10 rating system. One is very light, such as walking to the refrigerator for a glass of milk. Ten would be a very significant level, representing maximal exercise. Ten would be indicative of not being able to take another step without fear of collapse. It is not recommended for anyone to work at a rate of 10 without strict supervision by a healthcare provider. Moderate intensity is the level of exercise that is most recommended, and can be determined by a rating between a 3 and a 5.
Warming up and cooling down
Every session of aerobic exercise should include a warm-up and cool-down. The warm-up period should not include static stretching, but should instead be a gradual increase in pace and intensity of the exercise. This allows for the body to increase blood flow to the muscles, and decreases the likelihood of a muscle or joint injury. The warm-up should last between 5 and 10 minutes. The cool-down session should last a similar amount of time as the warm-up, with the pace gradually decreasing. Stretching exercises would be appropriate after aerobic exercise.
Progression of aerobic exercise
Progression to higher intensities of exercise should be based on individual exercise tolerance. There are 3 methods for challenging aerobic fitness:
- Increase the speed
- Increase the resistance
- Increase the duration
Any of these methods, or a combination of these methods, will improve aerobic fitness. Increasing intensity should be done very gradually. You should challenge yourself for only a few minutes at a time.