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Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise is activity that is moderate in intensity and continuous in nature. It is more than physical activity because it is a higher intensity than walking the hallway in your house, or walking the golf course. It should not, however, be a case of no pain, no gain. It should always be a pace that you can maintain comfortably for a continuous time (ideally a minimum of thirty minutes on most, if not all, days of the week). 

These activities may include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Elliptical or stair-stepping machines
  • Bicycling
  • Rowing
  • Swimming
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Jogging or jogging intervals
  • Rollerblading
  • Low or high-impact aerobics
  • Sports (soccer, basketball)

General Aerobic Exercise Guidelines:

  • Start with 10 to 20 minutes of activity, performed two to three times per week
  • Increase your exercise duration gradually, approximately 10 percent each week
  • Progress to 30 minutes of activity (one 30 minute session, two 15-minute sessions or three 10-minute sessions, performed three to four days per week)
  • Aim for a long term goal of 30 to 45 minutes of exercise, performed three to five days per week Aim for a caloric expenditure of 1000 - 1500 calories a week (150 to 200 calories per day) for general health benefits and 2000 calories for weight loss
  • Longer sessions (45 to 60 total minutes) or more frequent workouts (4 to 7 days per week) will lead to additional health and fitness benefits
  • Those who have clinical disease (heart, lung), are unfit or have a low-conditioning level can improve fitness with lower-intensity, longer-exercise sessions. 
  • Higher intensity (vigorous) exercise will yield health and fitness benefits in a shorter time frame of 20-minute sessions are sufficient for vigorous (athletic) activity

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend "accumulating 30 minutes of moderate intensity on most, if not all, days of the week". To determine a moderate pace, select a level that is fairly light to somewhat hard (not too easy that you can sing while you exercise but not too intense that you can't answer questions from your exercise buddy). If you have had an exercise stress test, you were given an individualized heart rate range. If you have not had an exercise stress test, you can use the Rating of Perceived Exertion scale.

Each aerobic exercise session should be proceeded by a short warm-up to allow a gradual increase in heart rate and blood pressure. After exercise, gradually reduce the intensity of exercise or walk for three to five minutes to ensure you have cooled down adequately.

Prior to adding aerobic exercise or increasing the intensity of your current activity, see your health care professional for medical screening and an individualized exercise prescription. Always stop exercise if you feel symptoms of dizziness, palpitations or heart rhythm irregularities, unusual shortness of breath, chest, upper back, neck or arm pain.

Before Starting a Program

It is always important to consult your physician before starting an exercise program. This is particularly true if any of the following apply to your current medical condition:

  • chest pain or pain in the neck and/or arm
  • shortness of breath
  • a diagnosed heart condition (e.g., a previous heart attack, angioplasty, or coronary artery bypass surgery)
  • joint and/or bone problems
  • currently taking cardiac and/or blood pressure medications
  • have not previously been physically active
  • dizziness
  • heart palpitations and/or rhythm irregularities

If none of these apply to you, start gradually and sensibly (e.g., a walking program). However, if you feel any of the physical symptoms listed above when you start your exercise program, contact your physician right away.

If one or more of the statements listed above applies for you, see your physician before beginning an exercise program. An exercise-stress test may be used to help plan your exercise program. 

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, medical clearance and follow-up, including exercise stress testing, are essential screening components for older adults (men over 45, women over 55), those at increased risk for cardiovascular events, and those with known cardiac, pulmonary, or metabolic disease (e.g., diabetes), especially when vigorous exercise (e.g., jogging, running, racquet sports) is considered.