Aerobic activity

Aerobic activity or endurance activity is any activity that raises your heart rate and keeps it up for a while.

This increases the amount of oxygen delivered to your heart and muscles, which allows them to work longer.

Benefits of aerobic activity
Increases in: Decreases in:
  • Heart health
  • Blood supply to heart and muscles
  • Your body’s use of oxygen
  • Muscular endurance
  • Mood, self-esteem, and self-concept
  • Energy level
  • Risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol level
  • Shortness of breath
  • Risk of diabetes
  • Blood sugar
  • Risk of some cancers
  • Body fat
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Fatigue

How often and how long?

Adults

Experts say to do either of these to get and stay healthy:1

  • Moderate aerobic activity for at least 2½ hours a week. Moderate activity means things like brisk walking, brisk cycling, or shooting baskets. But any activity that makes your heart beat faster—including daily chores—counts as moderate activity.
  • Vigorous aerobic activity for at least 1¼ hours a week. Vigorous activity means things like jogging, cycling fast, cross-country skiing, or playing a basketball game. You breathe harder and your heart beats much faster with this kind of activity.

You can choose to do one or both types of activity. And it's fine to be active in several blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week. Do what works best for you. For example, you could do moderate activity twice a week for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes at a time. Or you could do 10 minutes 3 times a day, 5 days a week.

You could do vigorous activity 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Or you can try to do it once a week for 1¼ hours, or for 25 minutes a day, 3 days a week.

Moderate exercise is safe for most people, but it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Start by doing a short warm-up, such as walking or riding a stationary bike. And stretch briefly.

Children

Experts recommend that teens and children (starting at age 6) do moderate to vigorous activity at least 1 hour every day.1 And 3 or more days a week, what they choose to do should:

  • Make them breathe harder and make the heart beat much faster.
  • Make their muscles stronger. For example, they could play on playground equipment, play tug-of-war, lift weights, or use resistance bands.
  • Make their bones stronger. For example, they could run, do hopscotch, jump rope, or play basketball or tennis.

It’s okay for them to be active in smaller blocks of time that add up to 1 hour or more each day.

How hard should you work?

To get the health benefits, you need to do your activity at a moderate pace, at least. Here's an easy way to know if you're working hard enough:

  • If you can't talk and do your activity at the same time, you are exercising too hard.
  • If you can sing while you do your activity, you may not be working hard enough.
  • If you can talk while you do your activity, you are doing fine.

One way to know how hard you should exercise is to find your target heart rate. Being active within the range of your target heart rate not only helps you keep your heart and lungs healthy but also helps you get or stay fit. As a guideline, use the Interactive Tool: What Is Your Target Heart Rate?

The more aerobic activity you do, the healthier your heart will be. It won't beat as fast as it did before, even when you give the same amount of effort. This is a sign that you are becoming more fit.

The more aerobic activity you do, the more you'll be able to do without getting out of breath or feeling like your heart is pounding. You will be able to do activities such as playing with children, doing housework or yard work, or hiking without getting tired as quickly.

Walking for health

One of the best and easiest aerobic activities is brisk walking. You don't need special equipment, and you can do it almost anywhere.

A pedometer, which you can buy at a sporting goods store, can help you keep track of your activity. A pedometer will count the number of steps you take each day and help you set goals to walk more. Some people prefer letting the pedometer count the steps they walk, rather than trying to keep track of how many minutes they walk.

A good goal is to walk a total of 10,000 steps a day. Try wearing your pedometer every day for 1 week to see your usual number of steps. Then increase the number by up to 2,000 steps a day until 10,000 steps is comfortable for you. You can increase your walking in simple ways. These suggestions can get you started, and you can probably think of more ways to add more steps to your everyday activities.

  • Park farther than usual from your workplace (or get off the bus or subway before your stop, and walk the rest of the way).
  • Take the stairs rather than the elevator for one or two floors.
  • Walk a lap inside the grocery store before you start shopping.
  • Walk instead of drive for short trips. Walk to school, work, the grocery store, a friend's house, or a restaurant for lunch.

To keep walking interesting, find a new area to walk in. Allow yourself some extra time in case this walk takes longer than your usual route. Because new areas may pose some safety concerns, try a new area only during daylight, and choose well-populated areas, such as:

  • Around your neighborhood. See some places you rarely see from your car. Meet some neighbors.
  • Around a whole park. Try getting off the sidewalk. For example, walk around a baseball or soccer field.
  • A mall.
  • A track at a local school.

Walk at various times of day. Use "transition times" (times between activities when you don't have to be anywhere) to get out and walk, such as:

  • After work, when you usually might sit in front of the TV.
  • First thing in the morning. See a part of the day you might often miss.
  • During your lunch or coffee break. Ask a coworker or a friend to join you for a walk. This can be a great energy boost.

Other aerobic activities

Other aerobic activities include:

  • Aerobic classes, including step aerobics and spinning (indoor cycling) classes.
  • Running or jogging.
  • Bicycling.
  • Cross-country skiing.
  • Swimming.
  • Daily activities such as walking the dog or actively playing with children. These need to be done for at least 10 minutes a session at a moderate intensity.
  • Water aerobics (which is especially good for older adults, those who are overweight, and those with joint problems).
  • Sports such as tennis, basketball, or soccer.

Citations

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/pdf/paguide.pdf.

Last Updated: August 13, 2009

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