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 a certified personal trainer, certified health coach and advanced health & fitness specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

Member Comments

  • KLIGOR
    Excellent article, with good basic overview of aerobic exercise.

    I do agree that aerobic exercise is important, but from practical experience as a personal trainer, I believe that the guidelines should emphasize resistance training over aerobic training. That is not to say that aerobic training is not important (it is), it's just that resistance training can actually give you more benefits than aerobic training.

    Resistance training done in a circuit format will give you the obvious strength benefits, but it will also give you endurance benefits, and if you're doing it through a full range of motion, flexibility benefits. On the other hand, if a person performs aerobic exercise exclusively, yes, their aerobic endurance will improve, but their strength and flexibility will get worse.

    Furthermore, if aerobic exercise is performed excessively and exclusively, it will actually cause fat gain at some point. I actually wrote a blog about it right here:

    http://www.toro
    ntofitnessonl
    ine.com/2012/
    02/13/aerobic
    -exercise-can-make-you-fat/

    I understand that there are space limitations, so overall, I want to re-state that it's a good basic overview of aerobic training.

    Igor. - 12/9/2012 3:30:06 PM

  • So, not the "perfect" article . . . but ten times better than my best would ever be.

    There is never ever too much info regarding aerobics! - 10/17/2012 1:08:51 PM
  • Helpful article for me as I'm just starting out.

    Is there a way of favouriting it? I can't see a button to click on unless I'm just being dense :/ - 10/17/2012 5:42:28 AM
  • WAYNE56
    It is my understanding that you burn more fat at a lower intensity than your THR is this correct or not. Or do you still burn as much fat at the THR but also get a better aerobic work out - 8/10/2012 2:13:56 PM
  • VIRGO091190
    Can you help to know some important things about teaching aerobics? I am oing to teach aerobics just only for my friends...
    How many session per day and per month?
    It is ok,,if one session per day? So it means 20 minutes it's the total of my teaching lesson everyday? - 6/30/2012 4:21:23 AM
  • SPWORKOUT
    Exercising is a great way of reducing body fat and keeping your muscles fit. But as you may already know, not all types of exercises are good for you. Of course, you have to make sure that your body has enough strength to carry out a particular exercise routine. There have been many cases when bodies give out and succumb to injuries because the exercise routine is more rigorous than what the body can muster. There are generally two types of exercises: aerobic and anaerobic. They differ in terms of the routine they contain and the benefits they give.
    - 5/23/2012 4:44:38 AM
  • @CamelSamba: Yeah, I see why that was confusing. It's still aerobic, the article is just trying to stress that you get the most benefit out of doing the activity at least three times per week. Right now, I don't do the same aerobic activity three times a week; I've been doing two workouts a week rowing and two workouts a week swimming. Any more with the rowing and I think it's overkill, and I'm not that strong a swimmer yet.

    I appreciate that this article talks about activities other than just plodding along on a machine. I gave myself a stress fracture from doing too much on the treadmill, so I've switched to a lot of bodyweight circuits and intervals after my strength training, and it's really kicking my butt! I challenge anyone who doubts that to do a leg workout and then finish with intervals of kettlebell swings and bodyweight squats and see how long they last. My butt was crying for days!! I like the idea of finishing a workout with something like that because it gets me out of the gym faster, and then I can do longer, steady cardio on days that I'm not lifting.

    The one thing I would add is that if you can do high intensity intervals for more than 15-20 minutes, you're not doing high intensity intervals. Steady cardio is good for up to 60 minutes, but if you're doing that much with HIIT, then your intervals aren't intense enough. Just sayin'. - 1/21/2012 1:16:45 PM
  • CALLIBISH9
    I am loving this website and am really glad that I joined. There are so many helpful and interesting tips and articles!!!! - 7/8/2011 7:32:38 PM
  • ANADSEWIL
    Stretching is part of the cool down after aerobic exercise. You should never stretch at the beggining before your body is warmed up. Warming up is doing something slow that mimics the exercise you are going to do. - 7/2/2011 5:50:13 AM
  • Confusing part in the article: "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)."

    The frequency part confuses me - if someone runs only 2 days a week, is that no longer considered aerobic? - 5/3/2011 12:18:45 PM
  • This is a fantastic article! I am a Fitness/Nutrition advisor as well as a Personal Trainer, AND a very proud Spark member. While training for my certification, my reference material was all Spark related information. I am on Spark everyday, whether it's getting a new recipe, or just for motivation. Thank you Spark!!! - 5/3/2011 11:32:51 AM
  • The cool down process allows the the body and heart rate to return to it's resting state - 5/3/2011 11:21:11 AM
  • Stretching is not an aerobic exercise, and should be done prior to any exercise. Stretching is anearobic, not requiring oxygen to the muscles. Stretching conditions the muscles to prevent injury while exercising. - 5/3/2011 11:18:56 AM
  • OUTDOORSDC
    I really wish they would add different types of yoga to the fitness tracker. - 1/21/2011 8:56:15 AM
  • @BBETH121555: They didn't mention stretching specifically, but it does say "Always cool down at least 5-10 minutes at the end of your activity." - 1/21/2011 8:36:10 AM
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