Aerobic Exercise: Benefits And How To Guide

By Jasmine Greene

Dr. Kenneth Cooper, an exercise physiologist at San Antonio Air Force Hospital, was the first to coin the term "aerobics." He developed a heart rate formula of subtracting your age from 220 and exercising with the heart rate at 60-80% of that number. Originally this formula was designed for astronauts, but the benefits of "aerobics" soon convinced Dr. Cooper that this type of exercise is beneficial to everybody.

Since then studies have demonstrated many benefits of regular aerobic exercise, including:

*Weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight (Aerobic exercise burns fat!)

*More long-term, consistent energy & stamina

*Improved mood

*Pain relief (by natural endorphin production)

*Stronger heart and better circulation (by keeping arteries clear and preventing heart disease)

*Improved blood sugar control and adrenal health

*Lower blood pressure

*Stronger bones (weight bearing aerobic exercise helps prevent osteoporosis)

*Stronger immune system

*Longer life expectancy

If you have been battling low energy, poor endurance, aches and pains, too much body fat, stress, or sugar and carb cravings, your body is probably not getting enough aerobic exercise!

The exercise intensity and duration determine whether the muscles work aerobically or anaerobically. Aerobic exercise requires a very specific level of intensity for at least thirty minutes at a time. If the heart rate is too low or too high, the exercise becomes anaerobic instead.

In aerobic exercise, the body burns fat and converts it into energy. Because this process requires oxygen, it is called "aerobic." Aerobic exercise is useful for improving muscle endurance (allowing for hours or days of work without fatigue). This is extra important for the muscles which support posture, joints, and the arches of the feet. So insufficient aerobic exercise will raise the probability of joint problems, injuries, fallen arches, and low stamina.

In anaerobic exercise, the body burns sugar (glucose) for energy. No oxygen is required for this type of energy production. Burning sugar provides short term speed and power. Muscles cannot burn sugar for long, however, and so they fatigue quickly. Most people have no shortage of anaerobic exercise; even while seated, the body runs many tasks anaerobically, and virtually all sports are anaerobic due to their alternating bursts of high intensity (anaerobic) exercise and rest.

Internationally recognized researcher and author Dr. Phil Maffetone has greatly changed our understanding of aerobic exercise and endurance training. Dr. Maffetone studied many athletes pre- and post-workout for many indicators, including heart rate, gait, and muscle imbalance. He found that the athletes who used Dr. Cooper's original formula often over-trained and suffered from injuries, distortions in body mechanics and posture, pain, and joint problems. After much work, Dr. Maffetone developed a new and improved formula for calculating each individual's target heart rate for true aerobic exercise.

There are just four simple steps to proper aerobic exercise and all its benefits:

1. Invest in a heart rate monitor, one with a chest strap as well as a wrist watch. It's not a good idea to exercise without one because you'll have no way of knowing if your pace is correct. There are many brands and models available to you. Polar is an industry leader and is usually a safe bet. If you work out in a gym, make sure your monitor is coded so that there is no electrical interference from other devices nearby.

2. Calculate your maximum aerobic heart rate using Dr. Maffetone's formula. Just subtract your age from 180 to calculate your maximum aerobic heart rate. For example, a 33 year old who wants to exercise aerobically would have a maximum heart rate of 147 beats per minute. Modifiers and exceptions to this formula are as follows:

*Subtract another 10 from the max heart rate if you're recovering from a major illness or surgery, or if you take any regular medications.

*Subtract another 5 from the max heart rate if: injured, have regressed in training or competition, suffer from more than two bouts of cold/flu per year, have allergies or asthma, just starting to train, or if you've been training inconsistently (Dr. Maffetone defined consistency as at least 4 times per week for 2 years).

*Add 5 to the max heart rate if: training consistently for more than 2 years without any injuries or problems and have made progress in competition.

*Add 10 to the max heart rate if: over the age of 65.

*This formula does not apply to those age 16 or younger. The best bet for these athletes is 165 as the max heart rate.

*If in doubt, choose the lower maximum heart rate.

3. Calculate your minimum aerobic heart rate by subtracting 10 from the max aerobic heart rate. For a healthy 34 year old, the max heart rate is 146 and the minimum is 136.

4. Walk, jog, bike or swim while wearing your heart rate monitor. Stay within your aerobic heart rate zone for at least 30 minutes at a time, and do this at least three times per week. I don't advise exceeding 90 minutes without a doctor's supervision.

You'll find it's surprisingly easy to exercise aerobically. It doesn't take much to get your heart rate up to the target zone. That's good news for couch potatoes (talk about exercising smarter, not harder!), but sometimes frustrating for athletes who don't want to slow down their training. Athletes need to do this, however, to protect their bodies. The good news for athletes here is that, as your heart becomes more aerobically fit, you'll soon be able to quicken the pace without surpassing your maximum aerobic heart rate. Once you start wearing a heart rate monitor, you'll likely also discover that any activity other than running, walking, cycling, or swimming at a steady pace is anaerobic.

As a chiropractor and acupuncturist, I've noticed substantial benefits for both myself and my patients who invest a little bit of time each week to exercise aerobically. The immediate and long-term benefits are well worth the effort!

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