Fitness Articles

Reference Guide to Aerobic Exercise

An In-Depth Look

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How Much Aerobic Exercise Should You Do?
When considering the guidelines for aerobic exercise, keep the FITT principles in mind (Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type).
  • Frequency: Number of aerobic exercise sessions per week
    Aim for a minimum of 3 days per week with no more than 2 days off between sessions. Gradually work your way up to 5 or 6 days per week. Frequency is especially important when it comes to weight loss since more cardio sessions will help you burn more calories. Give yourself at least 1 to 2 days off from aerobic exercise each week.
     
  • Intensity: How hard you should exercise during each session
    Aerobic exercise should take place at a “moderate” intensity level (not too easy, not too hard). This intensity is ideal for the general health benefits that come with exercise, and for weight loss. Exercise intensity is most often measured using heart rate. The recommended heart rate range is 60%-85% of your maximum heart rate. This range is called the target heart rate (THR) zone. Click here to calculate your Target Heart Rate. Other methods for measuring intensity exist, including the "Talk Test" or Rate of Perceived Exertion also work well. Learn more about exercise intensity here.
     
  • Time: How long each exercise session should last
    Aim for a minimum of 20 minutes per session. Gradually work up to about 60 minutes over time. The further you go over 20 minutes, the more calories you’ll burn and the more endurance you will build. Of course, you might not start an exercise program with a lot of endurance, but you'll slowly build up. Time can be cumulative. You don't have to do 60 minutes all at once. You can do several 10-minute mini-workouts each day and add them up for pretty much the same benefits.
     
  • Type: What counts as aerobic exercise?
    Any activity can count as cardio/aerobic exercise as long as it meets the 3 requirements above (frequency of 3-5 days a week, moderate intensity, and lasts at least 20 minutes per session). It’s important to not confuse “activity” with “exercise.” Not everything you do that’s activity is the same thing. Bowling, fishing, playing darts, and similar “activities” aren’t necessarily cardio just because you’re up and moving.
Get the Most Out of Your Aerobic Workouts
These tips will help you get started on the right foot!
  • Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. Get more about exercise safety tips for beginners.
  • Choose an activity you enjoy. You are more likely to stick with it.
  • Always warm up for at least 5-10 minutes before starting your activity.
  • Start slowly and listen to your body. Go at a pace that feels good to you.
  • Always cool down at least 5-10 minutes at the end of your activity.
  • Vary your exercise program to avoid boredom and plateaus. Changing your routine every 6-8 weeks is crucial to keeping your body/muscles surprised and constantly adapting. They'll have to work harder, you'll be challenged, and you'll burn more calories and build more lean muscle in the process. Learn how to change your exercise routine to avoid plateaus.
  • Instead of trying to exercise through an injury, give it time to heal.
  • Reduce exercise intensity in response to very hot or humid environments or to altitudes above 5,000 ft.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise to stay hydrated.
  • Avoid strenuous aerobic exercise during viral infections such as the flu or upper-respiratory tract infections.
  • Stop your exercise session and contact a doctor if you experience chest discomfort, lightheadedness or dizziness. Continued ›
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About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist and behavior change specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

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