Aerobic exercise is any type of continuous activity that works your heart, lungs and muscles. Examples include brisk walking, cycling, running, swimming, dancing and football.
Taking part in regular aerobic exercise will improve your cardiovascular fitness (or endurance) levels and has numerous other benefits for your health. These include reducing your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers as well as improving mood and sleep. Combining aerobic exercise with a balanced diet is also important for maintaining a healthy weight or losing excess weight if you’re overweight or obese.
There are many types of aerobic exercise, so choose one that suits you. Here are some examples of aerobic exercise and the benefits of each.
- Walking fast enough to feel slightly out of breath is great aerobic exercise for everybody, no matter what age you are. It’s a good choice if you’re not currently doing much exercise, as you can easily build it into your everyday life.
- Cycling is good for improving your fitness and for building strength – particularly in your leg muscles – while putting minimal pressure on your joints. It helps with balance and is a good way of getting around: it’s faster than walking and more environmentally friendly than a car or bus journey.
- Running or jogging is a more vigorous form of aerobic activity than walking or cycling. This means you don’t need to do as much to get the same health benefits. The only equipment you need to get started is a good pair of running shoes. If you’re new to running, following a running programme can help.
- Swimming is a great form of exercise for people of all ages and abilities. It exercises your whole body and doesn’t put any stress on your joints. It’s also a great choice if you have any problems with your joints, such as arthritis.
- Fitness classes such as aerobics, water aerobics and spinning give you a fantastic workout and can be a great way to meet people. You might find that a group-based activity gives you more motivation. Classes are held for all ages and abilities. Check out what’s available in your local area.
- Team sports such as football, are a great form of aerobic exercise. They’re an excellent way to stay motivated because you all rely on and support each other. There are plenty of team sports at all levels to choose from – and they’re a great opportunity to socialise while improving your fitness.
- Aerobic exercise machines such as treadmills, exercise bikes, cross-trainers and rowing machines are another way to stay fit and healthy. A gym will provide a good range of these machines. Alternatively, you can invest in your own equipment so you can keep fit in the comfort of your own home.
How much should I do?
Any amount of aerobic exercise will be beneficial to your health. But good targets to aim for are:
- two-and-a-half hours (150 minutes) a week for activities of moderate intensity
- one-and-a-quarter hours (75 minutes) a week for activities of vigorous intensity
- smaller amounts of activities of very vigorous intensity
Each of these will give you the same benefits. Or, you can mix it up with a combination of all three.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you may need to do more exercise than this in combination with reducing your calorie intake. You can adjust the intensity and amount of your exercise according to your goals, motivation and the level of fitness you wish to achieve. It’s best to start gently and gradually increase how much you do.
- Moderate intensity means the activity will make you feel warm, breathe harder and your heart beat faster. But you should still be able to talk without pausing. Although it depends on personal fitness, a typical example might be brisk walking or cycling.
- Vigorous intensity means the activity will make your breathing and heart rate much faster and you probably won’t be able to talk without pausing for breath. Typically, this could mean playing football, swimming or running.
- Very vigorous intensity means the activity will make your breathing and heart rate increase even more. You can probably only do this sort of activity in short bursts – for example, sprinting up hills.
HIIT (high intensity interval training) is an increasingly popular type of exercise that involves short bursts of high intensity activity alternating with short bouts of light exercise. HIIT can help to improve your overall fitness, and a real bonus is that it doesn’t take very long. You can even follow a HIIT workout at home so it’s easy to fit into a busy day.