What is aerobic exercise?

Any form of repetitive, rhythmic exercise that uses your large muscles, makes you breathe faster and gets your heart going is aerobic exercise. When you are doing aerobic exercise, your lungs work harder to bring in more oxygen and your heart pumps harder to send blood with more oxygen to your muscles. Aerobic exercise increases endurance and helps your body use oxygen more effectively; it makes your lungs, heart and muscles stronger.

Some examples of aerobic exercise are:

  • Bicycling
  • Climbing stairs
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Dancing
  • Ice skating or roller skating
  • Jogging
  • Jumping rope
  • Playing tennis
  • Swimming
  • Walking briskly

Why is aerobic exercise important?

Aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and improves circulation and muscle tone. It:

  • Decreases your blood pressure, which reduces your risk for having a stroke
  • Decreases your resting heart rate, which puts less stress on your heart
  • Increases the levels of HDL (the good cholesterol in your blood)
  • Increases your cardiac output, which means your heart pumps more blood with each heartbeat
  • Decreases your resting respiratory rate, which means your lungs don't work as hard when you are at rest
  • Increases blood flow to your lungs, which helps you to get more oxygen
  • Burns calories, which will help you lose weight

How much and how often should I exercise?

For health and fitness, regular exercise is much more important than strenuous exercise.

With your health care provider's approval, your goal should be 30 to 90 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a day, most days of the week. Moderate aerobic exercise is generally defined as requiring about the energy it takes to walk 2 miles in 30 minutes. This is healthier and less likely to cause injury than intensive exercise done just once in a while. Be sure to check with your health care provider before starting your exercise program.

What about target heart rates?

While you are doing aerobic exercise, you should keep your heart rate up. To make sure you are benefiting from your exercise, you may find it helpful to check your heart rate (pulse) during your workout. You need to set a target heart rate for yourself so that you can make sure you are exercising hard enough to help your heart, yet easy enough for you to complete the exercise safely. The goal is to maintain your target heart rate during your exercise for at least 30 minutes. You can also use your target heart rate to check your progress over time.

To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. Your target heart rate is between 60% and 85% of your maximum heart rate.

Adapted from Adult Health Advisor 2006.4; Copyright © 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved. Developed by Ann Carter, MD, for McKesson Provider Technologies. This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.