How To Improve Aerobic Fitness
Most of us want to get into better physical shape. And we've heard countless times that improving our aerobic fitness will help us achieve that goal. So what exactly does that mean? How can we tell if what we're doing is aerobic? Which sports or activities can be aerobic?
I asked all those questions as I made my first serious attempt to get healthier a few years ago. Before then I enjoyed walking, and intermittently tried dance or cardio classes. But I still got winded and tired a lot, and that puzzled me. So I did some investigating.
The term "aerobic" describes certain sustained activities at a moderate intensity that strengthen the heart and lungs. As you bringing in more oxygen to feed the muscles, your body learns to use that oxygen more efficiently.
Along with increasing muscle tone, aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and lungs, and can lower blood pressure. Better sleep and an easier time dealing with stress are two great benefits.
One thing you'll need to know right away is your personal maximum heart rate. Figure this out by subtracting your age from the number 220. You want to spend your aerobic exercise time at 60-70% of maximum heart rate. The rest of the workout includes warm ups, cool downs and recovery time.
The "talk test" is how I tell when I'm in the aerobic zone. I'm a little out of breath but can still talk or sing as I exercise, and can keep that pace up for several minutes. If I feel too winded to speak, then the intensity is too high. I need to back off a bit.
How Much & What To Do
The Surgeon General's recommended amount of aerobic exercise is 30 minutes, 3-5 times a week. This can be in full sessions or "accumulated" in smaller amounts (at least 12 minutes in length) throughout the week.
For a while my routine consisted mostly of 20 minute yoga sessions. Though the stretches and strength poses helped with my back issues, my exercise regimen was out of balance.
What I needed to do was find some kind of exercise and push myself to a higher level of intensity. Some of the best exercises for an aerobic workout are running, cycling, swimming and dancing.
Since I'd already been a walker, I chose that first. Then, once I got some confidence and strength, I ventured into latin dance! The best approach is to find at least two activities and switch between them. Then different sets of muscles will get used and you won't get bored.
- Get outside when possible for both fresh air and and extra dose of sunlight.
- Map and time your route through the neighborhood or local park so you'll know how much of a workout you're getting.
- Use the track of a nearby high school - many are open during the day.
- For an indoor workout, choose a video done by trained teachers like Leslie Sansone. DVDs with segments let you choose the length of your workout.
- Pools at area schools may offer a lower fee and more hours to choose from than a fitness club.
- USA Swimming cites 3 endurance levels - Minimum, Threshold, and Maximum - and recommends that every workout should include all three.
- Go to the Livestrong website for a helpful article with suggestions for aerobic swimming workouts.
- Classes are run at all sorts of locations: YMCAs or YWCAs, Senior centers, schools, churches or hospitals.
- Start with low-impact workouts first, especially if you have knee trouble.
- Videos can be found on YouTube for free, or you can purchase DVDs from experienced trainers like Denise Austin and Cathe Friedrich.
- Zumba classes, latin dance-based and challenging, are widely available.
- Crunch Fitness has some easy-to-follow videos in a wide variety of styles such as African and Broadway Dance.
Steps To Success
Get Your Doctor's Approval
When starting a new workout routine, it's important to make sure your body can handle the demands. Do you have any heart or lung issues? Any other ongoing physical conditions? Getting advice from your doctor will equip you to make choices about which activities to pursue, how to form an effective plan, and what precautions, if any, you need to take.
Get Some Basic Equipment
Heart monitor - Since it is hard to track your rate while you're exercising, having a reliable heart monitor is a smart investment. You can purchase good quality wrist monitors for around $50.
Jump rope - Easy to use, store, and pack to take for a good aerobic workout anywhere. Just be sure that the rope is strong and won't fray or break away from the handles. Basic versions start at around $10, but more advanced will cost as high as $50.
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Amazon Health Equipment
Make a Commitment to Yourself
Improving your fitness is a process. You'll need to set a long-term goal - that will help you maintain the daily discipline necessary to have success. A good starting point is to aim for 3-5 aerobic workouts per week.
Note: Don't make the mistake. like I have, of pushing yourself to do a full workout every day. Your body needs time during the week to rest, or it will be vulnerable to strain or injury. When I exercise too much without a break, I find myself grumbling instead of enjoying.
Employ A Strategy
Interval training has been spotlighted as a powerful way to increase aerobic strength. Periods of higher and lower intensity alternate within the workout session and boosts the metabolism. This can be a better kind of fat loss plan than longer but lower-level workouts.
An example of an interval workout with walking:
First, figure out your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from the number 220. You don't want to go there unless you're a professional athlete. What you want is to sustain a level of activity where you can still talk for short stretches of time.
Warm-up - five minutes at a gentle pace
Period One (more intense, 70% of your maximum heart rate) - increase your pace for three minutes
Period Two (most intense, 80% of your maximum heart rate) - push even more for one minute
Repeat Periods One and Two at least 6 times
Cool Down - fine minutes at the same pace as the warm-up
***Warm-ups and Cool downs are essential to avoid injuries***