Aerobic Exercise

views updated

Aerobic exercise


Aerobic exercise is sustained exercise that increases blood flow to the muscles, strengthening the cardiovascular system and lungs.


Aerobic means “with oxygen,” or “in the presence of oxygen.” Aerobic exercise is exercise of low or moderate intensity that is done for a moderate or longer duration. It is intended to work more than one muscle or muscle group. Because muscles need oxygen to function, the increased muscle activity associated with aerobic exercise causes the body to provide more oxygen to the muscles being used. This causes the heart and lungs to work harder, and strengthens the lungs and the entire cardiovascular system. Aerobic exercise is in contrast to anaerobic exercise which usually involves intense activity that is short in duration, such as weight lifting.

It is recommended that everyone who is able get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise almost every day. But for people who have not been exercising, even less can still have a significant health benefit. As little as 15 minutes of aerobic exercise can have a positive impact on health. When people think about aerobic exercises, they often imagine jogging, or exercises classes with lots of jumping, kicking, and running in place. Although these are both forms of aerobic exercise, aerobic exercise does not have to be that intense. It does not even have to seem like exercise at all. Many activities that are pleasurable, and even functional, can be excellent aerobic exercise, especially for people who are just starting out.

Walking is a highly effective form of aerobic exercise. It is often recommended especially for people who have not recently been active. For individuals who have been mostly sedentary, starting with small amounts of walking, and working up from their, is a great way to start exercising. Walking does not have to be done specifically for exercise to count. Walking to the grocery store, walking the dog, or even going to get the mail are all great ways of getting light aerobic exercise.

There are many other forms of aerobic exercise. Some tend to have a high impact on the knees and ankles, such as jogging. This type of aerobic activity may not be the most beneficial for individuals who have joint pain , or other problems with the lower body. Activities like swimming are also excellent aerobic exercise with minimum impact on the joints. Aerobics performed in the swimming pool, either individually or in a class setting, is also a great way to get a low impact aerobic workout.


Aerobic exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for everyone. For seniors, regular exercise is an especially important part of maintaining good health, mobility, and a positive outlook. Even individuals with chronic illness such as cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes can significantly benefit from aerobic exercise. In many cases, regular aerobic exercise can be an important part of managing chronic disease and reducing the occurrence of symptoms.

Many different options are available for seniors to participate in aerobic activity. Senior centers and community centers often offer exercise classes designed especially to be low impact to minimize the stress on seniors' joints. In some neighborhoods walking groups are formed to help provide the benefits of regular aerobic exercise along with the comradery of a group activity. Many retirement communities have gyms staffed with people specially trained in helping seniors participate in aerobic exercise with minimum risk of injury. Many assisted living and managed retirement homes also have gyms specially designed to meet the exercise needs of their residents.


The main purpose of aerobic exercise is to increase overall health and fitness. It also increases the health and strength of the heart, lungs, and cardiovascular system. Regular aerobic exercise can also lead to increased mobility, weight loss , increased mental agility, positive self image, and even faster healing times. Stamina is also increased so that more activities can be participated in, for longer periods of time, without significant fatigue.


Seniors face a variety of challenges when it comes to participating in aerobic activity. The first, and often most significant, challenge, is the challenge of getting started. Thirty minutes a day of exercise can seem like an unachievable amount if an individual is in poor health or has had a very sedentary lifestyle form any years. Many people feel that since 30 minutes is too much there is no point in even trying. Starting small, with manageable amounts of exercise daily, such as walking around the block, or even walking to the mailbox and back every day instead of waiting form some one else to get the mail, can be a great first step. Once that amount of exercise becomes

easy additional exercise can be added on a small amount at a time. Exercise does not even have to be done all at once. If 10 minutes of walking is too much, an individual can start with two five minute walks.

Problems with mobility can be a significant challenge to aerobic exercise. Using a walker or other assistive device, or being confined to a wheelchair can make getting exercise seem like a daunting task. However, many types of aerobic exercise can be modified by a trained professional for seniors with mobility limitations. Individuals should talk to their doctor, physical therapist , or other healthcare professional to get recommendations about aerobic activities that will best fir their mobility needs.


There are some risks with every form of exercise. Light forms of aerobic exercise, such as walking, generally have very low levels of risk. More strenuous forms of aerobic exercise, such as jogging, have higher levels of risk. To minimize the risks associated with aerobic exercise it is important to start out slowly and increase the intensity and duration of the exercise gradually over time. If two weeks or longer has passed since the last time a person exercised it is important to start out slowly again.

Risks of aerobic exercise can include dehydration , pulling or straining muscles, and joint pain. To reduce these risks a five minute or longer warm up should be done before each period of aerobic exercise. During this warm up the muscles that are going to be used should be gently stretched. A period of cool down for at least five minutes, and longer in warm weather, should also follow each period of exercise. The cool down should include stretching the muscles used again. Extremely vigorous exercise after a long period of sedentary lifestyle has a risk of heart attack and stroke . Anyone concerned about the possible risks of aerobic exercise should consult their doctor.


The results of regular anaerobic exercise can be drastic. Many people lose weight when they add aerobic exercise to their daily routine, even if they do not eat less, because of the additional calories that are burned. Regular aerobic exercise can have a variety of health benefits for seniors. Increased cardiovascular, heart, and lung health can result in a longer, more active life. Regular aerobic exercise can improve flexibility and mobility. Some studies have indicated that it can even help reduce the pain from osteoarthritis .


aerobic —in the presence of oxygen, with oxygen.

anaerobic —in the absence of oxygen, without oxygen.

Regular aerobic exercise can help seniors live longer. A Harvard study found that regular exercise reduced the risk of premature death by 25%. Another study found that people who exercise regularly may live up to 3.7 years longer than people who are completely sedentary. Regular exercise can also help manage chronic conditions, and exercise combined with good eating habits and other healthy lifestyle choices can decrease the occurrence of symptoms of some disease such as type 2 diabetes.

Regular exercise may also help memory and cognitive function. Animal studies have shown that regular exercise increases animals' ability to remember. Women who exercise regularly have been found to exercise fewer hot flashes during menopause and afterwards than women who do not exercise regularly. Men who exercise regularly are lees likely to have problems with erectile dysfunction . Regularly aerobic exercise has also been found to lead to faster healing. A study by researcher at Ohio State University found that seniors who exercised just three days a week healed 25% more quickly than seniors who did not.



National Institute of Aging. Fitness Over Fifty: An Exercise Guide From the National Institute On Aging. New York: Healthy Living Books, 2006.

Powers, Pauline, and Ron Thompson. The Exercise Balance: What's Too Much, What's Too Little, and What's Just Right For You! Carlsbad, CA: Gurze Books, 2008. Seen, Barbara. Keeping Fit Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2008.


Van Stralen, Karlikn, J., et al. “The Relationship Between Exercise and Risk of Venous Thrombosis in Elderly People.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 56.3 (March 2008): 517–523.

Eyigor, Sibel, Hale Karapolat, and Berrin Durmaz. “Effects of a Group-Based Exercise Program on the Physical Performance, Muscle Strength, and Quality of Life in Older Women.” Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics 45.3 (November-December 2007): 269–272.

Landers, Susan J. “Exercise Can Help Elderly in Fight Against Alzheimer's.” American Medical News 49.6 (February 13, 2006): 57.


American Heart Association, 7272 Greenville Avenue, Dallas, TX, 75231, (888) AHA-USA-1,

Helen Davidson