by Vicky Mai, PT, DPT
What is it and who does it benefit?
Aerobic exercise is a continuous activity, maintained for a prolonged period of time. Such activities may include but are not limited to: jogging, walking, swimming or cycling. Having good aerobic fitness means that the body is able to efficiently deliver oxygen and nutrients to larger muscle groups in the body in order to provide the necessary energy required to sustain such activities. This involves interactions within the systems of the heart, lungs, and muscles. Studies have shown that people who do regular continuous exercise will live longer, have a greater work capacity, and will decrease their risk of potentially fatal diseases such as coronary artery disease, cancer and diabetes1-4.
Aerobic exercise may increase your “good” cholesterol (high density lipoprotein or HDL) and reduce your “bad” cholesterol (low density lipoprotein or LDL).2-3 This may result in less buildup of plaques in your arteries and in turn, have positive effects on blood lipid levels and blood pressure, reducing your risk for disorders like heart disease or making you less susceptible to a stroke3,4. Besides strengthening your heart and lungs, aerobic exercise can help strengthen your immune system, increasing resistance to illnesses and stress. In addition, with a regular exercise routine, you may sleep and handle stress better.
Another benefit with aerobic exercise is that it can increase your stamina, or capacity to perform certain activities longer with more energy throughout your day, reducing sensations of fatigue while performing your normal activities.1, 3 This is a result of your heart pumping blood more efficiently due to training from exercise, allowing it to deliver the same amount of blood with fewer contractions,3-5 hence, a “stronger, bigger heart.”
In addition to physical health benefits, research has shown that aerobic exercise may also play a positive role on one’s mental state. Studies show that about 19 million Americans experience depression every year,6 and it has been widely acknowledged that aerobic exercise helps improves symptoms of depression by activating endorphins – the body’s natural chemical, released through prolonged, continuous exercise. Endorphins have been known to reduce our perception of pain, as it interacts to the same receptors that some pain medications bind with. Prolonged aerobic exercise may also in turn, boost your mood, reduce tension, and therefore promote relaxation.6-8 Studies have also been performed on its effects brain function, including increased concentration and improved memory.8,9
The American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 30 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise five days a week, or 20 minutes of high intensity aerobic exercise three days a week to maintain good health and reduce your risk of chronic disease.4,10 Furthermore, 60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate is the range intensity to get the most benefits. However, for individuals who are just starting to exercise, it is best to start at a pace that is tolerable for you to sustain and gradually increase intensity and duration, such as 15-20 minutes of walking, three times per week. Having a regular aerobic exercise routine incorporated in your daily life can not only help with your physical state, promoting better healing rate, but may also positively impact your mental function. Whether you’re an avid power lifter, a patient recovering from an injury, or have never exercised before, there is a program for you.
Vicky Mai, PT, DPT received her Doctorate at USC and her Bachelors of Science in Exercise Biology at UCDavis where she researched and presented information about Exercise and the Brain, targeting the Alzheimer’s population. She was also part of a team that developed and implemented an after school physical activity program in the local elementary schools to stress the importance of health and mental benefits of exercise at an early age, as physical education was cut out of the schools’ curriculum. She joined BreakThrough Physical Therapy in 2014 and enjoys hiking, running, and playing basketball.
1 Baerchle, T and Earle, R. Essentials of strength training and conditioning, 3rd edition.
Champaign: Human Kinetics, 2008. Print.
2 Mersey, DJ. Health benefits of aerobic exercise. Postgrad Med. 1991 Jul; 90(1): 103-7, 110-2
3 Warburton, DE, Nicol, CW, Bredin SS. Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence.
CMAJ March 14, 2006;174
4 Wilmore JH. Aerobic exercise and endurance: improving fitness for health benefits. Phys and
Sports Med. 2003; 31(5): 45-51.
5 Martin, D and Notelovitz, M. Effects of aerobic training on bone mineral density of postmenopausal women. J
Bone and Min Rsrch. 1003; 8(8): 931-936.
6 Dimeo, F et al. Benefits from aerobic exercise in patients with major depression: a pilot study.
Br J Sports Med 2001;35:114-117.
7 DiLorenzo, TM et al. Long term effects of aerobic exercise on psychological outcomes.
Prevent Med. 1999; 28(1): 75-85.
8 Stroth, S, Hille K, Reinhardt MS & R. Aerobic endurance exercise benefits memory and affect
in young adults. Neuropsych Rehab. 2009; 19(2)
9 Colcombe, SJ. Aerobic Exercise training increases brain volume in aging humans. J Gerontol A Bio Sci Med Sci. 2006; 61 (11): 1166-1170.
10 Haskell, WL. Physical Activity and Public Health: Updated Recommendation for Adults From the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(8):1423-1434.