Most of you reading this probably do some of the following cardio exercises in your fitness routine: running, cycling, swimming, walking, HIIT etc. Doing such exercises can improve your aerobic fitness, which is important as it provides essential benefits to your health. So, what are these benefits and how can you improve your exercise routine to achieve a good aerobic fitness level?
But first, what is aerobic fitness?
Aerobic fitness, also known as cardiorespiratory fitness, is the ability of your circulatory, respiratory, and muscular systems working together to supply oxygen and sustain an activity for extended periods of time. This means that the longer and less difficulty you experience doing aerobic exercises such as running, swimming or cycling, the better your aerobic fitness.
Additionally, aerobic means “with oxygen”, as oxygen is used to help our body derive energy from nutrients such as carbohydrates and fats to fuel us during exercise.
Benefits of having good aerobic fitness
The benefits of having good aerobic fitness includes not only physical well-being, but mental well-being too:
- Improves cardiovascular health
Research has shown that aerobic exercise helps individuals improve cardiovascular health as oxygen delivery is improved throughout the body and a long-term anti-inflammatory effect is induced, helping to counter the inflammatory effects typically seen in cardiovascular diseases. Exercise also decreases cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity.
- Regulates blood sugar level
During aerobic exercise, your muscles start using more glucose for energy. Hence, your blood sugar levels are lowered, and it allows insulin to work better in our body. This helps to control your blood sugar levels, which is especially important for diabetics whose blood glucose levels are usually too high.
- Reduces visceral fat
Studies have shown that aerobic exercise helps to reduce visceral fat. This refers to the fats that are stored in the abdominal cavity and therefore stored around a number of important internal organs such as the liver. It is important to do so as visceral fat accumulation is linked to an increased probability of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
- Enhances sleep quality
The exact mechanism between exercise and sleep is still uncertain, but there are benefits of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise on sleep quality. Older adults with moderate sleep complaints reported improved self-rated sleep quality after going through a moderate intensity exercise program in a controlled trial study. Aerobic exercise also increases the amount of slow-wave sleep (i.e. deep sleep) and helps to calm your mood and mind, which is important for a natural transition to sleep. However, it is important to be mindful of the timing of exercise as it could disrupt your sleeping schedule. This is because exercising releases endorphins that can keep you awake. It also raises your temperature which might be misinterpreted by the body that it is time to be awake.
- Reduces risk of dementia
Aerobic exercise is one of the most effective methods in preventing dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, regular physical exercise can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50 percent, and slow the rate of decline in those who have symptoms of cognitive problems. Exercise protects against these diseases by stimulating the brain’s ability to maintain old connections as well as make new ones.
- Helps improve mental health
Through exercise, key brain regions increase in size and function, such as the hippocampus. It also helps the brain controls responses to stress, reduces inflammation, and increases resistance to oxidative stress (a phenomenon that affects cells, protein, and DNA). These physiological changes elicit an anti-depressant effect that can potentially benefit mental health and cognition.
Tips for a good aerobic exercise plan
To achieve maximum benefits from aerobic exercises, you can follow these tips to increase the effectiveness of your routine:
Frequency is generally recommended to be 3-5 days a week with varying degrees of intensity. You can choose to have moderate-intensity aerobic exercises done 5 days a week, vigorous-intensity aerobic exercises done 3 days a week or a weekly alternating combination of both. Vigorous-intensity exercise performed more than 5 days a week or 1-2 times a week for those not regularly active increases the risk of injury and should be avoided.
Exercise intensity is defined as how difficult an activity is. Refer to the images below to learn how to monitor your exercise intensity and adjust according to your fitness level. Moderate to vigorous exercises are recommended for most adults and light to moderate exercises for those who do not exercise regularly.
Source: The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
Duration should vary from 30-60 minutes for moderate-intensity exercises, accumulating to a total of at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. For vigorous-intensity exercises, it should be 20-60 minutes with an accumulation of at least 75 minutes a week.
A tip from Mr Munir, Active Health Coach: “If you are a beginner or trying to get back to your exercise routine, you can start with light-moderate intensity for 10 minutes, 2-3 times per week and slowly increase the duration as you progress. Once you have developed a decent base fitness, you can then make the exercise more challenging i.e. increasing exercise intensity. For those of you who may have concerns with your current health status, speak to your doctor before starting any exercise program”
With these knowledge and tips, you are now ready to embark on your journey to achieve good aerobic fitness! Need more advice? Check out our e-workshops on cardiovascular fitness and fitness and health, where our Active Health Coaches will guide you to your better self!