Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise  is physical exercise of low to high intensity that depends primarily on the aerobic energy-generating process. Aerobic literally means “relating to, involving, or requiring free oxygen”, and refers to the use of oxygen to adequately meet energy demands during exercise via aerobic metabolism. Generally, light-to-moderate intensity activities that are sufficiently supported by aerobic metabolism can be performed for extended periods of time.

When practiced in this way, examples of cardiovascular/aerobic exercise are medium to long distance running/jogging, swimming, cycling, and walking, according to the first extensive research on aerobic exercise, conducted in the 1960s on over 5,000 U.S. Air Force personnel by Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper.

Kenneth Cooper was the first person to introduce the concept of aerobic exercise. In the 1960s, Cooper started research into preventive medicine. He became intrigued by the belief that exercise can preserve one’s health. In 1970 he created his own institute (the Cooper Institute) for non-profit research and education devoted to preventive medicine. He sparked millions into becoming active and is now known as the “father of aerobics”.

Benefits:

Among the recognized benefits of doing regular aerobic exercise are:

  • Strengthening the muscles involved in respiration, to facilitate the flow of air in and out of the lungs
  • Strengthening and enlarging the heart muscle, to improve its pumping efficiency and reduce the resting heart rate, known as aerobic conditioning
  • Improving circulation efficiency and reducing blood pressure
  • Increasing the total number of red blood cells in the body, facilitating transport of oxygen
  • Improved mental health, including reducing stress and lowering the incidence of depression, as well as increased cognitive capacity.
  • Reducing the risk for diabetes. One meta-analysis has shown, from multiple conducted studies, that aerobic exercise does help lower Hb A1Clevels for type 2 diabetics.

As a result, aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of death due to cardiovascular problems. In addition, high-impact aerobic activities (such as jogging or using a skipping rope) can stimulate bone growth, as well as reduce the risk of osteoporosis for both men and women.

In addition to the health benefits of aerobic exercise, there are numerous performance benefits:

  • Increased storage of energy molecules such as fats and carbohydrates within the muscles, allowing for increased endurance
  • Neovascularization of the muscle sarcomeres to increase blood flow through the muscles
  • Increasing speed at which aerobic metabolism is activated within muscles, allowing a greater portion of energy for intense exercise to be generated aerobically
  • Improving the ability of muscles to use fats during exercise, preserving intramuscular glycogen
  • Enhancing the speed at which muscles recover from high intensity exercise
  • Neurobiological effects: improvements in brain structural connections and increased gray matter density, new neuron growth, improved cognitive function (cognitive control and various forms of memory), and improvement or maintenance of mental health

Some drawbacks of aerobic exercise include:

  • Overuse injuries because of repetitive, high-impact exercise such as distance running.
  • Is not an effective approach to building muscle.
  • Only effective for fat loss when used consistently.

Both the health benefits and the performance benefits, or “training effect”, require a minimum duration and frequency of exercise. Most authorities suggest at least twenty minutes performed at least three times per week.

Cooper himself defines aerobic exercise as the ability to utilise the maximum amount of oxygen during exhaustive work. Cooper describes some of the major health benefits of aerobic exercise, such as gaining more efficient lungs by maximising breathing capacity, thereby increasing ability to ventilate more air in a shorter period of time. As breathing capacity increases, one is able to extract oxygen more quickly into the blood stream, increasing elimination of carbon dioxide. With aerobic exercise the heart becomes more efficient at functioning, and blood volume, hemoglobin and red blood cells increase, enhancing the ability of the body to transport oxygen from the lungs into the blood and muscles. Metabolism will change and enable consumption of more calories without putting on weight. Aerobic exercise can delay osteoporosis as there is an increase in muscle mass, a loss of fat and an increase in bone density. With these variables increasing, there is a decrease in likelihood of diabetes as muscles use sugars better than fat. One of the major benefits of aerobic exercise is that body weight may decrease slowly; it will only decrease at a rapid pace if there is a calorie restriction, therefore reducing obesity rates.