Aerobic Exercise: The Wonder Activity that Can Improve Your Physical and Mental Health

written by Skye Sherman - Nov 18, 2019

Photo Credit: by shengjm70,
Photo Credit: by shengjm70,

It’s well known that some vital elements of staying healthy include eating a healthy, balanced diet and staying active with regular exercise. But what exactly does aerobic fitness do for you? And what is it, exactly? How do you know if you’re getting aerobic exercise?

In this article, we’ll explore some of the surprising benefits of aerobic fitness and take an in depth look at all that it does for you. We’ll also take a look at how aerobic exercise may be a testosterone booster and explore whether aerobics or lifting weights may be better for your overall health.

Interested in learning more about aerobics--or in a simple way you can improve your physical and mental health in one simple, low-impact activity? Then let’s get moving!

What is aerobic fitness, exactly?

Contrary to popular belief, aerobics isn’t all Jane Fonda and 80s-style dance moves. In fact, aerobics doesn’t have to involve dancing or technicolor Spandex at all! Aerobic exercise is merely any type of activity that helps your body to become more efficient at distributing oxygen where it needs to go, thereby improving your heart and lung function along the way.

A more popular and shorter term for aerobic exercise? Cardio! You may know aerobic exercise as cardio, but both phrases refer to the same thing: getting your heart pumping, lungs working, and improving your overall fitness.

According to an article in Star2, “Whether you call it aerobic or cardiovascular or cardiorespiratory endurance, it’s the same thing: getting your heart pumping and oxygenated blood flowing, with the goal of improving your cardiorespiratory health. Aerobic means something that occurs in the presence of, and requires or uses, oxygen. So, when the body is able to supply adequate oxygen to sustain performance for long periods of time, this is called aerobic exercise.”

Whether you do aerobics via brisk walking, running, jogging, biking, rowing, or some other way, it all falls under the aerobics umbrella--and it’s all good for your health. But to fully understand aerobic activity, you’ll also need to get a grasp on anaerobic activity, which is also good for you, but in a different way.

“On the contrary, an anaerobic activity is the type where you get out of breath in just a few moments,” explains the article. “Examples include when you lift heavy weights for improving strength, when you sprint or when you climb a steep hill. Basically, you go all out in short bursts of activity, leaving you breathless. Depending on preferences, some people tend towards aerobic exercises, instead of anaerobic ones. You can also do an aerobic activity and turn it into an anaerobic one, and vice versa. It all depends on the intensity in which you are performing the activity.”

Is aerobic exercise necessary?

Movement is magic--and if you want to stay young, nimble, and energetic, fitting aerobic exercise into your daily or weekly routine is a good idea. It will help keep you fit, give you endurance and stamina, and improve your overall health.

Whether you’re aging or still in your younger years, aerobic exercise is a vital part of the body’s general wellbeing. Want to improve your cardiovascular health, lower your blood pressure, regulate your blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, and receive a whole host of other benefits, all in one activity? Aerobic exercise is the way to do it. It can also help to better your sleep, regulate your weight, strengthen your immune system, and more. With all that it does for our bodies, it’s a wonder we want to do anything but exercise!

According to Healthline, “Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. Brisk walking or swimming are examples of moderate activity. Running or cycling are examples of vigorous activity.”

Recent research is even finding that there may be a link between exercise and memory recall. Aerobic exercise doesn’t just have physical benefits--the mental benefits are plentiful, too. Staying active helps to keep you young and spry.

Aerobic fitness improves your mood and mental health--not just your physical fitness

Aerobic activity isn’t just good for your physical health--it lifts your mood and boosts your brain power, too. Mentally healthy people tend to be active and engaged, and working more aerobics into your life could provide some major benefits to you, too.

In fact, according to a study shared by Healthline, doing aerobics can ease symptoms of depression. “In one study on individuals with depression, participants walked on a treadmill doing intervals for 30 minutes a session,” the article shares. “After 10 days, they were asked to report any changes in their mood. All participants reported a significant reduction in their symptoms of depression. These results suggest that engaging in exercise, even for a short period of time, may have a big impact on mood. You don’t need to wait almost two weeks to see improvement. The study results revealed that even a single exercise session may be enough to give you a boost.”

Feeling low? Then get up and get active. It may feel like the last thing you want to do, but recognize how dramatically it may help you.

A unique benefit for men: aerobic exercise may be a testosterone booster

Dealing with low T? Exercise may be the key to getting your levels back up. Testosterone is a vital chemical in the makeup of both men and women, but men especially notice the effects of lowered testosterone levels.

An article on states, “Testosterone is more than just the male sex hormone; it's also vital for weight loss, muscle gain, healthy brain function, bone health, and more. However, the older we grow, the less testosterone our bodies produce. … According to a study presented at the 2016 Integrative Biology of Exercise VII Meeting by the American Physiological Society, aerobic exercise may be the key to reversing the effects of aging on androgen levels.”

In other words, aerobic exercise is one highly effective way for men to boost their testosterone levels. This is especially true if they are overweight or obese. And by raising your testosterone levels, it can actually become even easier to lose weight, as the hormone helps the body increase its production of lean muscle tissue.

You don’t have to spend hours at the gym to reap the benefits of aerobic exercise: studies suggest that you can see improvements and impressive results with just a few hours each week spent walking or jogging. Just up your aerobic exercise plans by a little bit and you may see major improvements.

Which is better: aerobics or lifting weights?

As you know from the above section tackling aerobic vs anaerobic exercise, there is another type of exercise in addition to cardio training that is part of a balanced workout regimen. It’s not all about moving your body and getting in cardio training--lifting weights and improving your muscle strength is also part of many people’s workout schedule.

But which is better for you? Do you need both, or can you pick one over the other? Does one do more for you, or should you do more of one than the other?

An article in The New York Times titled Aerobic Fitness May Trump Strength for Metabolic Health claims, “Endurance affects metabolism substantially more than muscular strength does, a new study suggests. … according to an interesting and provocative new study of the molecular effects of different aspects of fitness. The study, which was published in August in JAMA Network Open, finds that people’s aerobic endurance — or lack of it — can influence their metabolisms more potently than their muscular weakness or might, a result with implications for anyone wondering which types of exercise could be most beneficial for health.”

In other words, building stamina may be more important than bulking up your strength if you want to improve your overall metabolic health. Both are important, but if you had to only pick one, it seems that making sure you get moving and get your heart pumping would be preferable.

Is it worth it if it exposes you to pollution or bad air quality?

Getting aerobic exercise outdoors can be a double-whammy of feel-good vibes. Forest bathing or getting out into nature can be extremely good for you and uplifting to your mental health, what with the hearty dose of Vitamin D and the serene sounds and scenes of the outdoors. Combine that with some oxygen-rich exercise and you’re truly giving your body a treat. But what if you live in an urban environment, such as a dirty city, or a place with poor air quality? Is it still worth it to get outside and get exercise?

An article in MayoClinic explains, “While aerobic activity is one of the keys to a healthy lifestyle, air pollution and exercise can be an unhealthy combination. This is especially true if you have asthma, diabetes, or heart or lung conditions. Young children, older people, and people who work or exercise outdoors can be especially susceptible to the effects of outdoor air pollution. Outdoor air pollution can come from many sources, including:

* Motor vehicle traffic

* Pollen from flowers, trees and shrubbery

* Wind-blown dust

* Burning wood

* Construction

* Agricultural operations, including raising animals and clearing land

* Power plants

Even when you're not exercising, exposure to air pollution can cause health problems. But with the combination of air pollution and exercise, the potential health problems are increased.”

Generally, it seems that it’s likely best not to increase your exposure to polluted air any more than is necessary in order to conduct your normal daily life, such as going to work or stopping for groceries. Exercising in dirty air looks to be even worse for you than just doing your typical daily routine in it.

If you live in a place where air pollution is a problem, you should likely opt instead to get your exercise indoors. You’ll still reap the benefits of aerobic exercise but won’t cause undue damage to your body by subjecting it to dirty air unnecessarily. Alternatively, MayoClinic recommends tips such as monitoring the air pollution levels in your city--and avoiding the outdoors on days when it’s at its worst--as well as timing your workouts strategically and avoiding heavily polluted areas altogether. Of course, if you have a condition like asthma, you should consult your doctor on when it’s safe to exercise outside and when it’s not.

How to get aerobic exercise: Zumba and more of the best ways to get aerobic exercise

Wondering how you can cash in on the numerous available benefits of aerobic exercise? It’s easier than you think, because a wide range of activities are included under the umbrella of aerobic exercise.

Walking, running, jogging, cycling--if it gets you moving and leads to sustained oxygen use, it’s aerobic exercise. You can make it fun by taking a Zumba or synchronized swimming class, or you can keep it simple by just packing a quick walk or jog into your daily schedule. Whatever you do, if it keeps you active, it’s a good idea to incorporate into your routine.

Almost any activity can become a source of aerobic exercise if you do it intensely enough and for a long enough amount of time. Elevate your heart rate up to 55 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate--and then keep at it for an extended period--and you’re in business. Even going about your household chores can be a great source of aerobic exercise!

Big fan of Zumba? Then you’ll be glad to know that there are more benefits to Zumba than you may realize--in fact, it’s even good for your brain! Check out NextAvenue’s article 12 Surprising Benefits of Zumba Workouts if you need inspiration to sign up for a class this week. You may find that you’re having so much fun, you don’t even realize you’re working out!

Need more aerobic inspiration? Check out SparkPeople’s list of More Than 110 Cardio Workout Ideas. Anything from vacuuming to snow shoeing to playing with your dog can improve your health, so just get started.



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While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. The article was written for information and educational purposes only. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.