In aerobic activity, your body uses oxygen in a process that breaks down glucose and fat for energy. Aerobic exercise refers to any physical activity that uses the large muscles in your arms, legs and hips and makes your heart and lungs work harder.
Aerobic means "with oxygen". Aerobic exercise refers to the use of oxygen when muscles generate energy during moderate-intensity physical activity. Good examples of aerobic exercise are swimming, cycling, rowing, jogging, brisk walking, cross country skiing, touch football and aerobics or ‘cardio’ classes at the gym. Do these exercises regularly and you can get something wonderful in return — stamina. This means you’ll be able to do any kind of physical activity for longer without getting tired.
It increases the capacity of your heart and lungs to take oxygen-rich blood to your muscles. This means your muscles can produce energy for movement over a longer period. You may then find it easier to do any kind of physical activity — walking, gardening, shopping — for longer. When physical activity gets easier, you’re likely to do more of it. This can help build stronger muscles that let you do even more physical activity without feeling tired.
It’s recommended that adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week. This can help reduce heart disease risk. Do at least 10 minutes at a time without stopping.
‘Moderate-intensity’ means activities such as brisk walking (as opposed to strolling or window-shopping). Your heart rate is slightly increased. As a guide, you should be able to talk comfortably — but not sing.
It’s thought that a few sessions of more vigorous exercise increases fitness and protection against heart disease even more. In vigorous activity, you ‘huff and puff’ which can make talking in full sentences between breaths difficult. This happens in exercise like aerobics classes, speed walking, jogging, fast cycling, brisk rowing or sports such as football, netball and basketball.
For best results, it’s recommended you do vigorous activity for around 30 minutes, three to four days a week.
Many activities count as aerobic, such as brisk walking, dancing and swimming. So, most people should be able to find one that suits them. If you’re unused to exercise, start slowly by walking for a few minutes at a time twice a day. Gradually increase your walking time and walk more briskly as you get fitter. Work toward walking for 20–30 minutes a day.
More vigorous forms of exercise aren’t generally recommended for some people. Check with your doctor first if:
Some types of aerobic exercise such as brisk walking and swimming carry less risk of injury than others. If you have arthritis, swimming is one aerobic activity that is unlikely to stress your joints. High impact activities that can stress joints, muscles tendons and ligaments include activities such as running, soccer, netball and aerobics classes. General tips to help reduce injury risk include:
Australian Sports Commission
Smartplay: sport safety and injury prevention program
Department of Health and Ageing (DOHA). An active way to better health: national physical activity guidelines for adults. 2005 [cited 2013, May 13]. Available from: http://www.health.gov.au.
Meyer P, Kayser B, Mach F. Stair use for cardiovascular disease prevention. European journal of cardiovascular prevention and rehabilitation. 2009 Aug;16 Suppl 2:S17-8.
National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health (NPAPH). How to measure yourself. [Internet]. 2010 [updated 08 October 2010]. Available from: http://www.measureup.gov.au.
Rimer J, Dwan K, Lawlor Debbie A, Greig Carolyn A, McMurdo M, Morley W, et al. Exercise for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews [Internet]. 2012; The Cochrane Library 2012(7).
Rolland Y. Exercise and Dementia. In: Sinclair A, Morley J, Vellas B, editors. Pathy's Principles and Practice of Geriatric Medicine. Volume 1 & 2. Fifth ed. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2012. p. 911-21.
Smith PJ, Blumenthal JA, Hoffman BM, Cooper H, Strauman TA, Welsh-Bohmer K, et al. Aerobic exercise and neurocognitive Performance: a meta-analytic review of randomized controlled trials. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2010;72(3):239-52.
The Fitness leader's handbook. Fourth ed. Egger G, Champion N, Bolton A, editors. East Roseville, N.S.W.: Kangaroo Press; 1998.Top of page
Last updated: 13 May 2013
This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.
Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.