Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart and lungs, and cuts your risk for dangerous health conditions. Here are some tips to get started.
Aerobic means “with oxygen.” The heart, lungs and blood vessels respond to exercise by working harder to get oxygen to all the body’s muscles. So, your heart and lungs get a workout at the same time as your muscles.
Aerobic or cardio exercise makes you sweat, breathe harder and your heart beat faster. It is any activity that gets your heart rate up and keeps it up for an extended amount of time. Brisk walking, swimming and dancing are examples of aerobic exercises.
Weightlifting and short bursts of activity – like sprints and jumping jacks – are not considered aerobic exercise. They only get your heart rate up for a short amount of time. Still, they’re important because they help build muscle.
Why you need it
Getting in shape keeps you healthy and lowers your risk for medical conditions. Aerobic exercise helps to:
- Control weight
- Strengthen bones and muscles
- Keep blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels in check
- Cut your risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers
- Put you in a better mood
- Reduce stress
How much aerobic activity you need
Always check with your doctor first before you start or increase your exercise. If you have a health condition, ask your doctor what kind of exercise is safe for you.
Most healthy adults need at least:
- Two hours, 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week, or
- One hour, 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week
Get your sweat on
Most people prefer to work out at a moderate intensity. Take the “talk test” to gauge your intensity:
- Moderate – You will feel comfortable and can talk, but not sing.
- Vigorous – You can only say a few words before you need to pause to take a breath.
Spread your workouts throughout the week to fit them into your schedule. Mix and match moderate and vigorous exercise, if you choose (one minute of vigorous activity equals two minutes of moderate activity.) Aim for 30 minute moderate-intensity sessions, five days a week. If you can’t be active for 30 minutes at a time, break it up. Take a 15-minute walk in the morning and one in the evening. As you get in shape, you’ll be able to work out longer, with more intensity, and recover more quickly.
Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise:
- Brisk walking, about three miles per hour
- Bicycling less than 10 miles per hour
- Water aerobics
- Doubles tennis
- Ballroom dancing
Examples of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise:
- Bicycling more than 10 miles per hour
- Swimming laps
- Singles tennis
- Kickboxing or step aerobics class
- Cross-country skiing
Tweak your lifestyle
For most people, aerobic exercise needs to be done in addition to daily activities. But some tasks or activities are considered aerobic exercise if they’re done for at least 10 minutes continuously:
- Walking the dog
- Doing yard work, such as gardening, mowing the lawn with a push-mower or raking leaves
- Shoveling snow
- Cleaning house
Any activity is better than no activity. Even 60 minutes of exercise a week helps your health. But keep in mind that health benefits go up with the amount of exercise you do.