Aerobic exercise: benefits, examples, and how to tell if you are REALLY doing aerobic exercise
“Aerobics” is a term first coined by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, an exercise physiologist at San Antonio Air Force Hospital. He developed the formula of subtracting your age from 220 and exercising your heart rate at 60-80% of that number. Although he originally formulated “aerobics” to help astronauts, he soon realized that this type of exercise was useful for everyone. The benefits Dr. Cooper observed included weight loss and better heart health.
Since then, there have been improvements to Dr. Cooper’s original formula and studies have shown many benefits of regular aerobic exercise, including:
- Weight loss and weight maintenance (aerobic exercise burns fat!)
- More energy and endurance in the long term and constant
- Improved mood
- Pain relief (by natural endorphin production)
- Stronger heart and better circulation (keeps arteries clean and helps prevent heart disease)
- Better blood sugar control and adrenal health
- Low blood pressure
- Stronger bones (weight-bearing aerobic exercise helps prevent osteoporosis)
- Stronger immune system
- Longer life expectancy
If you suffer from low energy, if your stamina is not what it was before, if you are prone to aches and pains, if you have too much body fat or too much stress, or if you crave sugar or carbohydrates, chances are you are not doing it! enough aerobic exercise!
The intensity and duration of exercise determine whether you exercise aerobic or anaerobic. Aerobic exercise requires a very specific intensity level, and you must maintain that intensity level for at least thirty minutes at a time. If your heart rate is too low or too high (or variable), your exercise will become anaerobic.
In anaerobic exercise, the body burns sugar (glucose) for energy. As the name “anaerobic” suggests, oxygen is not required for this type of energy production. Burning sugar is helpful in providing short term speed and power. However, muscles cannot burn sugar for long, so they tire quickly. Most people have no shortage of anaerobic exercise – even when you’re sitting down, your body performs some tasks anaerobically. Furthermore, virtually all sports are anaerobic in nature due to their alternating bursts of high intensity activity and rest.
During true aerobic exercise, the body burns fat for energy. Converting fat to energy requires oxygen, hence the name “aerobic.” Aerobic exercise is helpful in providing muscular endurance (energy for hours or days at a time without fatigue). This is particularly important for the muscles that support the posture, the joints, and the arches of the feet. If there is not enough aerobic exercise for these types of muscles, the chances of joint problems, injury and poor resistance increase.
Internationally recognized researcher and author Dr. Phil Maffetone has vastly changed our understanding of aerobic exercise and resistance training. Dr. Maffetone studied many athletes before and after training looking for many indicators, including heart rate, gait, and muscle imbalance. He found that athletes using Dr. Cooper’s original formula often ended up over training and suffered injuries, distorted body mechanics and posture, pain, and joint problems. After much work, Dr. Maffetone developed a new and improved formula to calculate each individual’s target heart rate for true aerobic exercise.
There are only four simple steps to proper aerobic exercise and all its benefits:
1. Invest in a heart rate monitor. It’s just not a good idea to rely on the “feel” of a workout or to guess if your heart rate is too low or too high. There are many makes and models to choose from. Polar ™ is an industry leader and is often a safe bet. I recommend buying a model that has a chest strap and a wristwatch / display. If you exercise in a gym instead of outdoors, invest in a model that is hard-coded so there is no interference from electrical signals from other devices in the gym.
2. Calculate your maximum aerobic heart rate with Dr. Maffetone’s formula.
Simply subtract your age from 180. For example, a 32-year-old who wants to do aerobic exercise would have a maximum heart rate of 148 beats per minute. Modifiers and exceptions to this formula include:
- Subtract another 10 from the maximum heart rate if: you are recovering from a serious illness or surgery, or if you are taking any medications regularly
- Subtract another 5 from your maximum heart rate if: you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, have more than two cold / flu attacks per year, have allergies or asthma, are just starting to train, or have been training irregular (Dr Maffetone defined consistency as at least 4 times per week for 2 years).
- Add 5 to maximum heart rate if: you train consistently for more than 2 years without injury or problems and have progressed in competition
- Add 10 to maximum heart rate if: you are over 65
- This formula does not apply to athletes 16 years of age or younger. The best bet for these athletes is 165 as the maximum heart rate.
- When in doubt, choose the lowest maximum heart rate.
3. Calculate your minimum aerobic heart rate. Just subtract 10 points from your maximum aerobic heart rate. So our healthy 32-year-old example would have a maximum of 148 and a minimum of 138.
Four. Walk, jog, bike, or swim while wearing your heart rate monitor. Stay within your aerobic heart rate zone for at least 30 minutes at a time and do this at least three times a week. I do not recommend exceeding 90 minutes without the supervision of a physician.
You will find that aerobic exercise is surprisingly easy. It doesn’t take much for your heart rate to reach the target zone. That’s good news for TV junkies (talk about exercising smarter, not harder!), But sometimes frustrating for athletes who don’t want to slow down their training. However, athletes need to do this to protect their bodies. The good news for athletes here is that, as your heart becomes more aerobic, you will soon be able to pick up the pace without exceeding your maximum aerobic heart rate. Once you start wearing a heart rate monitor, you will likely also find that any activity other than running, walking, biking, or swimming at a steady pace is probably anaerobic.
As a chiropractor, acupuncturist, and athlete, I have seen substantial benefits for both myself and my patients who spend a little time each week doing aerobic exercise. The immediate and long-term benefits are well worth the effort!