Aerobic (Cardiovascular) Fitness

In the most basic sense aerobic exercise can be defined as any exercise that primarily works the heart, lungs, and circulatory system. Just to make things confusing, all of the following terms are used interchangeably when referring to cardiovascular exercise:

  • Cardiovascular exercise
  • Cardiopulmonary exercise
  • Cardiorespiratory exercise
  • Or simply just ‘cardio’

Why you should do Aerobic Exercise

The list of benefits of doing these types of exercise is a long one:

  • Increased body fat utilization (fat burning enzymes become more efficient)
  • Decreased resting heart rate (your heart has to work less all the time)
  • Increased heart stroke volume (your heart pumps more blood with each pump)
  • Decreased resting blood pressure (less stress on your arteries)
  • Decreased stress (a good workout can do wonders to reverse a hard day)
  • Increased resting metabolic rate (although the effect isn’t as much as with weight training)
  • In general, your body just simply gets better at moving and using blood over time

Types of Aerobic Exercise

Any exercise that raises your heart rate for a sustained period of time is considered aerobic. Here are some examples:

  • Walking
  • Jogging and running
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
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  • Stair climbing
  • Jumping on a trampoline
  • Machines at the club, such as the treadmill, elliptical machine, and rowing machine
  • Sports such as tennis, basketball, and soccer
  • Hiking

Take a look at my list of the Five Best Aerobic Exercises to learn more.

But my favorite aerobic exercise of all to recommend is the one you’ll stick with. My personal opinion is that peddling, climbing, or running on machines at the club or at home is boring with a capital ‘B’. I don’t like to jog or run outside because of how hard it is on all the joints in the leg. So I typically choose cycling and team sports to get my aerobic exercise. I enjoy it, so I will do it. You should choose the ones you enjoy and start getting the equipment and clothing you need to make them a permanent part of your life.

How to do Aerobic Exercise Properly

Each of the examples above have their own correct and incorrect ways of doing them. But there are some generic rules for making sure you’re getting the most out of your exercise:

Warm up – gradually move from easy to more difficult, over a 5-8 minute time period. This will get the muscles ready for the harder work by getting the blood moving and increasing your body temperature, and help prevent injuries. An example is to walk for a few minutes and then move to a slow jog for a few more minutes before running.

Target your heart rate – When doing aerobic exercise, your heart rate should be in a certain range to get the most benefit. Here’s how you determine that range:

  • Find your maximum heart rate by taking 220 – your age.
  • Multiply the maximum heart rate by 55% to find the minimum of the training range.
  • Multiply the maximum heart rate by 90% to find the maximum of the training range.

(between 40-50% of your maximum heart rate will give you benefits if you’re just starting out and aren’t in too good of shape.)

Here’s an example. I’m 36 years old. So my maximum heart rate is 220 – 36 = 184 beats per minute.
My minimum is 184 x 55% = 101 beats per minute.
My maximum is 184 x 90% = 165 beats per minute.

Then, while exercising, I can monitor to be sure I’m within that 101-165 beats per minute range. This can be done either with a heart rate monitor, sold at most sporting goods stores (or included right on higher end exercise bikes and treadmills), or I can just take my pulse manually. To do this just take your pulse for 6 seconds and add a zero to get beats per minute.

Be consistent – do the exercise 3 times a week minimum, with no more than 2 days between workouts.

Does it matter when I exercise? Well, most research says that exercising in the morning allows your body to burn more fat than later in the day. But, as in choosing the exercise you’ll stick with, choose the time that works best for you.