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Aerobic Exercise: For Mind and Body

Find the heart-pumping activity you love to reap all the potential health rewards
Written by 
Shawnee Barnes
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
December 18, 2013

The word “aerobic” may conjure thoughts of leg warmers, leotards and those intense exercise videos from the eighties, but aerobic exercise is really any activity that gets your heart pumping and burns calories. When done regularly, your body reaps benefits that go far beyond just heart health. The great news is that aerobic exercise can take many different forms—it’s up to you to get out there and figure out what works for your body and your lifestyle. Ideas include walking, running, swimming, water aerobics, or using gym equipment like treadmills, bikes, elliptical machines or rowing ergometers. You can also try dance classes, bootcamp classes, hiking and more.

Why Aerobic Exercise Is So Good for You

An obvious benefit of aerobic exercise, also commonly referred to as cardiovascular or cardio-respiratory exercise, is that it can help with weight control. Calorie burn depends on your weight, the duration and intensity of the activity you’re doing. A 200-pound person, for example, can burn as many as 600 calories during a 60-minute, low-impact aerobics class. A 140-pound, less fit person might only burn 360 calories in that same hour-long class.

But the pluses go far beyond results you can see. Among other benefits, aerobic exercisers may enjoy reduced risk of:

  • Heart Disease and Stroke Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart muscle, improves its efficiency and lowers your resting heart rate. It also can help lower blood pressure and reduce heart disease risk by increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and lowering triglyceride levels, which, when left unchecked, can lead to artery-clogging plaque.
     
  • Type 2 Diabetes Aerobic activity can help your body better respond to insulin, managing blood sugar levels.
     
  • Depression Feel-good chemicals known as endorphins are released during aerobic exercise, which may help fend off the blues. (Low energy, anxiety and poor mood can also benefit from regular endorphin boosts.)
     
  • Cancer Breast, colon and other cancers may be thwarted by cardio’s ability to help regulate hormones and insulin, improve immunity and reduce inflammation, among other factors.
     
  • Colds and Flu The cells that respond to and fight invading germs may be protected and even improved thanks to aerobic exercise.
     

What Are Some Aerobic Exercises?

You can turn to cardio classes, jumping rope, running, walking or water aerobics, but other activities like tennis, biking, hiking, dancing, basketball, rollerblading and skiing also count. At the gym, you can log an aerobic workout by using the elliptical, stair climber, stationary bike, treadmill and rowing machine.

Of course, your level of exertion matters. Aim to achieve a moderate, but challenging, pace—a level of activity that leaves you feeling a bit out of breath, but still able to carry on a brief conversation.

You can set up a visit with a local exercise physiologist for a target heart rate assessment. This appointment will teach you exactly what heart rates are ideal for you to exercise in to maximize your calorie and fat burn, as well as your fitness improvement. 

Getting Started

If you’re new to an exercise regimen or if you are already managing a health concern, it’s wise to speak with your doctor before beginning any new physical activity program.

Most beginners should aim to log 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least four times a week, with a long-term goal of daily sessions that are 35 to 60 minutes each.

Make sure you have supportive sneakers with adequate tread (no flat areas where there used to be ridges). Depending on how much you use them, sneakers should be replaced every six to eight months. Also, bring a water bottle and make sure to stay hydrated as you work out.

Finally, take a moment to make a commitment to yourself. Think of all the ways aerobic exercise can improve your life, and come up with a workout schedule that fits your preferences and lifestyle. 

Reference(s) 
American Heart Association
American Council on Exercise
Cleveland Clinic
Joslin Diabetes Center
National Cancer Institute
About the author 
Shawnee Barnes is a teacher and freelance writer who lives in Ithaca, New York. She writes about a variety of topics, including health and wellness.