Benefits of Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio exercise, is a type of exercise that requires more oxygen than when you're at rest. It's typically done at a light to moderate intensity and can be sustained for a longer duration without feeling overly tired. Examples of aerobic exercises include activities like walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, dancing, or participating in aerobics classes.

Engaging in regular aerobic exercise brings about positive changes in your body, leading to improved health and physical function. By maintaining a consistent exercise routine, you can retain these benefits over time. The key to reaping the most benefits lies in performing the right types of exercises at the appropriate intensity and duration.

The advantages of aerobic exercise can be broadly classified into two categories: fitness and health. Fitness refers to improvements in physical capacity, while health encompasses overall well-being. Fitness and health are interconnected, and most aerobic exercises contribute to both aspects.

Fitness benefits include increased cardiovascular fitness and endurance. Regular aerobic exercise enhances your heart's ability to pump blood and deliver oxygen to the muscles by enlarging its pumping chambers. This results in a lower resting heart rate and a slower heart rate during exercise at the same intensity. As your fitness level improves, activities like walking or jogging become easier, and you can engage in them for longer periods or at a higher intensity. These improvements are specific to the muscles involved in the exercise you perform. For instance, jogging improves running fitness, while swimming enhances swimming endurance. Additionally, you may notice increased stamina for everyday activities beyond exercise.

Aerobic exercise also reduces the risk of certain health problems. It has been shown to lower the chances of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and breast cancer. It can improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels by decreasing LDL-cholesterol (considered "bad" cholesterol) and increasing HDL-cholesterol ("good" cholesterol). Aerobic exercise has positive effects on mental health as well, reducing anxiety, stress, and depression while promoting a sense of well-being. Studies even suggest that regular aerobic exercise can increase lifespan.

Low-impact aerobic exercises like swimming are particularly beneficial for individuals with conditions such as arthritis that restrict their ability to engage in weight-bearing exercises.

While fitness improvements tend to be specific to the type of exercise performed, a wide range of health benefits can be obtained from any form of aerobic exercise. Moreover, even moderate amounts of exercise can lead to significant health improvements. Aerobic exercise also aids in weight control as it burns calories. Combining regular aerobic exercise with a balanced diet helps in weight loss or management.

Aerobic exercise positively impacts bone and muscle health. Weight-bearing aerobic exercises like brisk walking reduce the risk of osteoporosis, a condition characterised by excessive bone thinning with age. Aerobic exercise also promotes the growth of small blood vessels in muscle tissues, providing better oxygen supply and waste removal. This can help alleviate pain in individuals with conditions like fibromyalgia or chronic low back pain.

Engaging in aerobic exercise can have social benefits as well. Exercising with friends or participating in group activities like tennis or cycling creates opportunities for social interaction, making it more enjoyable and motivating. Exercising with others also increases the likelihood of maintaining a regular exercise routine.

It's important to take precautions when engaging in aerobic exercise. Avoid over-exertion by not pushing yourself too hard, for too long, or too frequently, as this can lead to injuries and discourage you from continuing your fitness program. Gradually increase the intensity of your exercises and allow several weeks of low to moderate intensity aerobic exercise if you're new to regular workouts. If you have existing health problems, a high risk of cardiovascular disease, or muscle, bone, or joint injuries, consult with your doctor before starting an aerobic exercise program. Similarly, men over 40 years old and women over 50 years old who haven't exercised regularly in the recent past should also seek medical advice before engaging in vigorous physical activity.

Written and reviewed by Dr Ahmad Zeeshan.