What is aerobic exercise?
Also known as cardiovascular exercise it is any sustained, rhythmic activity that involves large muscle groups. Aerobic exercise makes the lungs work harder as the body’s need for oxygen is increased.
What are the benefits of aerobic exercise?
There are numerous benefits for health and general well being to be gained from regular cardiovascular exercise:
- Increased energy levels
- Reduced stress and improved mental health
(due to the release of endorphins in the brain)
- Increased heart and lung efficiency
- Reduced blood pressure, resting heart rate and risk of stroke or heart attack.
Does aerobic exercise aid weight loss?
Weight is lost by creating a calorie deficit, burning more calories than you take in, so undertaking activities that burn large amounts of calories is an excellent accompaniment to a calorie controlled diet to help shift those unwanted pounds.
For example, half an hour of low paced jogging can burn around 300 calories. This can make a substantial contribution towards achieving the necessary calorie deficit to lose weight, or alternatively it can earn you a bar of chocolate that you feel less guilty about eating.
Aerobic exercises: At home
It is not essential to join a gym or to go out in the middle of winter to get an aerobic workout. There are a number of exercises that you can do in the privacy of your own home.
The cheapest options being putting on your favourite CD and dancing around the living room or giving the house a vigorous clean.
There is also an ever increasing array of affordable home fitness products available, such as steps, skipping ropes (remember to put your breakables a safe distance away), rebounders (rebounding is considered by NASA to be the “most efficient and effective exercise yet devised by man”), dance mats that you can use with your games console and exercise videos so that you can workout with your favourite celebrity.
Aerobic exercises: Outdoors
Even taking a few extra brisk walks can be enough to improve fitness and receive the benefits of aerobic exercise, just as long as you are working hard enough that your heart rate is increased and you are breathing faster.
Running, jogging or going out for a bike ride when the weather’s nice are all good forms of aerobic exercise.
Pretty much any exercise is better than no exercise at all, however, team sports are often less effective for developing aerobic fitness as while they involve periods where large amounts of energy is expended, these are often surrounded by periods of activity where the heart rate is allowed to drop.
The real benefits of aerobic exercise come from constant movement.
Aerobic exercises: Down the gym
Your local gym will provide a wide variety of aerobic options, such as treadmills, cross trainers, exercise bikes, stairmasters, rowing and ski machines so that you can just switch on and get started with your workout. It can be a good idea to diversify between different machines and different speeds/levels of resistance as your body can get used to a certain routine and after a number of sessions the same routine will not work your heart and lungs as much as it once did.
For those who prefer to work out as part of a group, many gyms provide classes, such as various forms of dance, body pump, body combat, Zumba and step aerobics with a trained instructor to ensure that you get the most out of your workout.
If you have access to a pool, swimming is also a very effective cardiovascular activity. As it is very low impact it is often suitable for people who have had injuries or problems with muscles or joints.
How often to train
For good cardiovascular fitness it is generally recommended to exercise 3 to 5 times a week and for 30-60 minutes, not including warming up at the start and cooling down at the end.
The main thing is to ensure that your heart and lungs are worked hard enough and for long enough to gain the benefits of aerobic exercise but not so long that you run the risk of injury. To check whether you are working out at the correct intensity, you should be out of breath but still capable of speaking.
It is important to start slowly. If you have been inactive for some time, don’t throw on your trainers and set off on a ten mile run.
If a half an hour session feels like too much, start with 10 minute sessions for the first week then increase that to 15 or 20 minute sessions the next week and so on until you feel comfortable exercising for longer.
Make sure that you listen to your body. It’s ok for muscles to be tired, but if they or your joints start to feel sore or breathing becomes uncomfortable slow down or stop to ensure that you are in a fit state for your next session.