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Workout Smart: Aerobic Exercise and Training

Taking the stairs, swimming laps, or playing hockey are all easier to do and enjoy with good aerobic fitness. Here are answers to common questions about aerobic fitness and how it can be improved. First let’s look over a few definitions:

Exercise Terminology Breakdown

Aerobic exercises (or Cardio): Exercises that use large muscle groups (like your legs) that increase your heart rate, and are done repetitively for long periods of time.

Aerobic fitness: It’s the ability of your heart, lungs, and blood cells and vessels to supply oxygen-rich blood to your working muscles, and the ability of those muscles to use that oxygen to make energy.

Aerobic fitness is measured as the highest amount of oxygen your body can use (often called VO2 max); this can be measured and used to determine exercise intensities as a reference point to track progress. You can improve and maintain your aerobic fitness with regular aerobic exercise.

Higher aerobic fitness is associated with better quality of life and living longer!

Physical activity: Includes all body movements.

Now that we are using the same language, I’ll answer a few questions.

How much aerobic exercise should I do?

The minimum recommendation for adults is doing at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity per week. However, if you’re aiming to complete an endurance event (like a triathlon), recover faster between plays at soccer, or maintain a healthy weight, then more is better. For those just starting aerobic exercise, do what you can and keep in mind that even 10 minutes at a time is better than none. For those aiming to improve their aerobic fitness, aim for continuous sessions of 30 minutes or more.

How hard should I exercise?

There are three basic levels of intensities you can choose to do aerobic exercises at: light, moderate, and vigorous. The table below gives examples of how long you should typically exercise at these levels for, what it will feel like and how many times per week you should do them.

Intensity Light Moderate Vigorous
Duration Minutes to Hours Minutes to Hours Seconds to Minutes
What it feels like
  • reasonably comfortable
  • can easily talk
  • feels like work but is manageable
  • increased heart rate and body temperature
  • can still talk but may pause to breathe
  • working hard
  • noticeably increased heart rate, and body temperature
  • difficult to talk
Examples
  • playing soccer
  • sprint-type training
  • splitting firewood
Frequency
  • unlimited!
  • 3-6 days per week
  • 1-2 days per week

A few suggestions:

  • If you are new to aerobic exercise, begin at a light intensity and gradually progress to moderate intensity.
  • Light intensity is great for rest days, or if you’re feeling under the weather.
  • Healthy individuals should spend most their time in the moderate zone. This will help build your aerobic “base”, allowing you to do longer and harder workouts.
  • Vigorous intensity can be performed on 1 to 2 days per week. These sessions take longer to recover from, so it’s best to interspace vigorous intensity workouts with light and moderate ones.

What’s the best aerobic workout?

The one you enjoy! My personal philosophy is to do activities you like because it won’t be a chore, you’ll be consistent, and enjoy the health benefits.

Have more questions? Give the Physical Activity Line a call (1-877-725-1149)! Our Qualified Exercise Professionals are very knowledgeable in: aerobic fitness, sports performance, and making training plans!


Related blogs

Workout Smart: Muscle and Strength
Workout Smart: Core Strength

Recommended resources

Physical Activity Line: Rating of Perceived Exertion scale
SportsMedBC: Periodization: Phases to Success

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