Aerobic fitness is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. Along with strength and flexibility, it defines how well you can move, how long you can stay active without tiring, and it may even determine how long you live. Aerobic exercises make your heart stronger and can boost your mood and help to control your weight. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends three sessions of 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise weekly to increase cardiovascular fitness.
Aerobic Fitness Defined
Aerobic means "with oxygen" and aerobic activity is movement takes in greater-than-normal amounts of oxygen for muscles to burn to produce fuel. Oxidation is required for use of energy sources that fuel low to moderate intensity and longer duration activity. More immediate sources not requiring oxidation are used to fuel a set of weight lifting exercises, for example. Aerobic exercise will raise your heart rate during exercise, expand your lung capacity, and increase your endurance. Aerobic activity is typically maintained at a moderate intensity level for a long time -- running is a good example. The University of Maryland Medical Center says you should be able to exercise at 60 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate for cardiovascular conditioning or aerobic fitness.
Benefits of Aerobic Fitness
Aerobic exercise is good for your heart. The stepped-up heart rate that results when you move large muscle groups, improves overall cardio conditioning, lowers your resting heart rate, increases your oxygen capacity, boosts circulation and the production of good cholesterol, lowers blood pressure and bad cholesterol, regulates blood sugar, creates healthier more efficient lungs, decreases the risk of heart disease and stroke, and helps you to maintain or lose weight. You can realize the benefits of your aerobic fitness while pushing your shopping cart at the grocery store, going up stairs, or running around a court in a challenging game of tennis.
Levels of Intensity
As you progress in fitness, you'll want to increase the intensity level of your aerobic exercise to continue to improve. If your lifestyle is sedentary, begin with light-intensity movement -- that includes walking at a moderate pace and daily activities such as cleaning, running errands and carrying packages. Moderate and intense aerobic activity is what delivers noticeable health results and pays big dividends in increased fitness. Moderate activity works your heart, lungs and muscles -- you can still converse while walking or jogging although you may be breathing harder. High intensity activity might be vigorous cycling, sprinting, swimming competitive laps, jumping rope, or playing basketball. Raise the level of intensity with one or more strategies: increase your speed, the time you spend working out, or the load-bearing or resistance of the exercise. The latter can be increased by going uphill or by a wearing weight vest.
Aerobic exercise is what you do between warm-up and cool down that raises your heart rate. It is not strength or flexibility training. You might choose a leisurely jog or killer timed rowing -- find the exercise level and interesting fitness choice that works for you and vary your routine to increase the challenge and stay inspired. Good aerobic choices range from high-impact step classes, regular runs on a track or trail, swimming, cycling, team sports such as soccer or volleyball, individual sports such as racquetball or golf, sessions on a treadmill or elliptical trainer, skiing, dinghy sailing, power yoga routines, dance classes, boxing, and working out on a trampoline or balance ball.