Clinical health information Aerobic exercise: can it help boost your energy? July 24 2019
Judith Ngai Judith Ngai Health writer

You may know that aerobic activity can help keep you healthy, but it may also help give you more energy.

Aerobic activity - any type of exercise which uses the large muscles in your arms, legs and hips, and makes your heart and lungs work harder -  has benefits for your overall fitness and good health. 

What is aerobic exercise?

Aerobic means "with oxygen". So aerobic exercise is activity that uses oxygen to help muscles generate energy. 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 aerobic exercise regularly and over time you can get something wonderful in return — stamina. This means you’ll likely to be able to do physical activity for longer periods.

How can aerobic exercise give you more stamina?

Aerobic activity 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. You may then find it easier to do moderate-intensity physical activity such as walking, gardening, shopping for longer than you used to be able to. And when physical activity gets easier, you’re likely to do more of it, which in turn helps build stronger muscles that let you do even more physical activity. 

What are some benefits of aerobic exercise?

  • Weight loss. Aerobic exercise burns kilojoules and when combined with a healthy diet it can help you lose excess fat. Losing inches around your middle can be especially important to help reduce your risk of health issues such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
  • Healthier arteries. By reducing ‘bad’ LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and raising ‘good’ HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, regular aerobic exercise can help reduce the buildup of plaque in the arteries, again helping to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. And even if you've had a heart attack previously, aerobic fitness can help prevent another heart attack.
  • A stronger heart. Strengthening your heart muscle means your heart can pump more blood for every heartbeat, which means it doesn't need to beat as fast during rest or exercise.
  • Lower risk of serious disease. As well as helping prevent heart disease and stroke, regular aerobic exercise can lower the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Weight-bearing aerobic exercises like walking and jogging can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Help with stress and your mood. Research has shown that exercise can help maintain good mental health.
  • A sharper mind. Research also suggests that regular aerobic exercise can help you maintain certain mental functions as you age, including attention and memory. 

How much aerobic exercise should I do?

It’s recommended that adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week. ‘Moderate-intensity’ means activities where your heart rate is slightly increased and you should be able to talk comfortably — but not sing. Do at least 10 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at a time without stopping.

It’s thought that a few sessions of more vigorous exercise can help further increase fitness and protection against chronic diseases. 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, try vigorous activity for around 30 minutes, 3-4 days a week.

Tips to help you get the most out of aerobic exercise

  • Choose forms of aerobic exercise which you enjoy and fits easily into your lifestyle.
  • Start off slowly. Tackle low-to-moderate level activities at first and slowly increase the duration and intensity.
  • Try adding variety by including a mix of activities such as walking and cycling or walking and swimming. Exercise or dance classes at a local gym or community centre can also be fun, keep you motivated, and stop you from getting bored.
  • Share your activity time with others — exercise with a friend or take your dog for a brisk walk.
  • Once you feel fitter, see each set of stairs as an opportunity to boost your fitness. Because walking (or running) up steps is more challenging than on a level surface, stair climbing works your heart harder and does more to strengthen muscles in calves, thighs and buttocks. It burns up more kilojoules too. 

Who can do aerobic exercise?

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 not used 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, most days of the week.

Before doing more vigorous forms of exercise, check with your doctor, particularly if:

  • you’re pregnant
  • over 40
  • have been leading a mostly inactive lifestyle
  • have heart disease, a family history of heart disease
  • have any other major health problem.

What can help you avoid an injury during exercise?

High impact activities that can stress joints, muscles tendons and ligaments include activities such as running, soccer, netball and aerobics classes. Some types of aerobic exercise however, such as brisk walking and swimming, generally carry less risk of injury than others. If you have arthritis, swimming is one aerobic activity that is less likely to stress your joints. 

Some tips to help reduce injury risk:

  • Before you start exercising, spend a few minutes warming up the muscles that you’ll need to use. For example, walk for a few minutes before you start jogging or running. Warming up can reduce the risk of straining or pulling muscles.
  • Avoid exaggerated movements that might cause an injury.
  • If your activity requires specific skills, such as rowing or swimming, expert coaching in correct technique and regular practice can help reduce injury risk.
  • If you’ve had any bone and joint problems in the past, such as problems with your knees or back, consider checking in with a sports medicine professional before starting any vigorous exercise.
  • Have the right gear for your activity. High impact activities such as running, aerobics classes, and some vigorous sports need suitable shoes to cushion the load on joints and muscles. Cyclists need to wear helmets as well as other safety equipment.
  • If you feel pain or experience an injury while you’re exercising, stop immediately and seek medical advice. Don’t resume the exercise again until the injury is healed and you have the go ahead from your healthcare professional.
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Judith Ngai Judith Ngai Health writer Judith is a pharmacist and health content specialist.