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What exactly is aerobic exercise, and why should you add it to your workout routine?
The phrase 'aerobic exercise' likely conjures up images of jazzercise classes. Or maybe you've been using the term synonymously with cardio. For the most part, all those guesses are correct, but aerobic exercise can get a little more complicated than that – and really, it boils down to the intensity of your workout.
So what, exactly, is aerobic exercise, and which workouts count as such? To help you decode all that training lingo, here is a break down so you can build aerobic exercise into your workouts.
What is aerobic exercise?
When you do aerobic exercise, you move your large muscle groups (think legs, glutes, and core) at the same time, usually in a rhythmic way, and for an extended period of time. Your respiration goes up, as does your heart rate to about 60 to 90 per cent of your maximum heart rate, but not over that max.
All aerobic exercise counts as cardiovascular activity, which is why you’ll often hear “cardio” used in placed of “aerobic.” So, you can label activities like running, swimming, cycling, and even speed walking as aerobic exercises.
The key to making movement aerobic, you need to be able to sustain the activity for more than two minutes with sufficient oxygen intake. That means even as your breathing rate increases, you shouldn’t find yourself gasping for air. The intensity is usually light to moderate, so you’re able to continue for about 30 to 60 minutes without spiking your heart rate significantly.
While most aerobic activity fits in the low to moderate intensity category, there are different levels. Low intensity aerobic exercise builds endurance, such as brisk walking or maybe a dance-inspired group fitness class. This would hit that lower heart-rate range, say around 60 to 70 per cent of your max heart rate. Moderate intensity aerobic work would involve a heart rate level between 70 and 80 per cent of your max and could include workouts like step aerobics and jogging. Finally, high-intensity aerobic workouts elevate the heart rate between 80 to 90 per cent of your max. For this, you might do spinning, faster running, or jogging stairs. It stops short of going at an all-out effort, though.
What are the health benefits of aerobic exercise?
Cardio days provide some of the best days for your cardiovascular system (hence the name), but benefits go beyond that of the heart. Aerobic activity lowers your blood pressure and blood lipids, and normalises your blood glucose, all of which will help you live longer and lower risk of conditions like diabetes.
Tons of research backs up these aerobic advantages, which is why the American Heart Association recommends people get 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise. In addition to fighting off risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, it can also help keep your brain sharp, better your bones (even more so if you do it often and add a little impact), and battle depression.
Plus, the more aerobic activity you do, the better you’ll get at it. Aerobic training can increase the size and strength of your slow twitch muscles – those involved in longer, sustained workout efforts like long-distance running. It can also improve your VO2 max, a major marker of fitness level which reveals how much oxygen your body can take in and utilise. With all that comes enhanced endurance, in everyday life, getting regular aerobic exercise also simply means you can jog to catch your bus or walk for miles without feeling super tired.
How to do an aerobic workout at home?
While common aerobic activities include jogging, swimming, cycling, rowing, and brisk walking, circuit workouts work too. All you have to do is perform at the required heart rate and intensity levels so that you’re able to maintain it for an extended period of time.
If you don’t feel like going outside or even leaving your house, but still want an aerobic workout, there's a perfect solution: this bodyweight routine. Do the 12 exercises below in order for 30 seconds each and five rounds, with as little rest as possible between exercises:
1. High knees
2. Mountain climbers
3. Butt kickers
5. Alternating bodyweight reverse lunges
6. High skips
7. Bodyweight squats
8. Lateral hops
9. Walking lunges
10. Jumping jacks
12. Toe taps to a block or step
Something to remember while performing this circuit: Work at a moderate intensity, so going from move to move sans breaks shouldn’t feel too challenging. If you do need a break, go a little slower. You’ll get better each time you do it.
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