Aerobic exercise the most important exercise

Posted: Sunday, March 06, 2011

Editor's note: "Focus on Fitness" is a Clarion feature with healthy lifestyle advice from local and national health and fitness experts. Check here weekly great information and tips on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

Aerobic exercise is the most important form of exercise. The benefits of participation in aerobic exercise are well documented. They include weight loss/maintenance, stress control, improved energy levels, improved sleep patterns, improved athletic performance and protection from depression. Perhaps the most important benefit though is protection from cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Kenneth Cooper is known as the "Father of Aerobics" and is often credited with the aerobic movement of the 70s and 80s. In one of his informative documentaries a middle-aged man who is unhappy with his life is depicted. The man is in such dire straits he decides to go for a run with the goal of sudden death. Go for a run, have a heart attack and end his miserable existence. He does not meet his goal on his first run so he tries again and again. Eventually, due to the benefits of aerobic exercise, he no longer wants to end his life and has in fact found happiness. Although most results are not so dramatic, aerobic exercise can be life changing and life saving.

Aerobic exercise is a very efficient way to burn calories. Activities that utilize the quads (thigh) and glutes (bottom) will burn a large number of calories during a workout. These are the largest muscle groups in the body and when trained they are efficient aerobic machines. If you want to lose or maintain weight an aerobic exercise program is essential. Participation in an exercise program is the single most important factor in weight loss/maintenance. Our country's obesity epidemic would not be as severe if our population participated in regular aerobic exercise. Children are far more likely to adopt an active lifestyle when their parents participate in exercise with them.

The body releases certain chemicals when it is stressed and similar chemicals are released during aerobic exercise. In addition, the diaphragmatic breathing required during aerobic exercise has a calming effect on the body much like deep "cleansing" breaths do when we are stressed. A fit cardiovascular system will better enable the body to deal with stress. Exercising 20 to 60 minutes in the aerobic zone results in a significant increase in circulating levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine. These are the chemicals that result in the "runner's high." "Aerobic rush" may be a more apt description of this phenomenon since any aerobic exercise will raise the level of these hormones. This is why aerobic exercise is such an important tool in the fight against depression and substance abuse.

Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to improve sleep patterns. When you sleep better you have more energy to exercise. You have more energy through out the day not only because you are in better shape but also because you are more rested. It is a sweet cycle: exercise, sleep better, have more energy for exercise!

Regardless of your sport or recreational endeavors improving your aerobic fitness will improve your performance. Endurance sports and activities are obviously benefited but they are not alone. It is the aerobic energy system that enables the body to recover between bouts with high intensity anaerobic exercise. This enables an athlete to train at a higher intensity for a longer period of time making for more effective training and better performance during competition.

Aerobic exercise is very effective in protecting the body against cardiovascular disease (CVD). It helps the body maintain a healthy blood pressure by reducing/maintaining weight and relieving stress. It helps the body maintain healthy levels of cholesterol by lowering levels of LDL, raising levels of HDL and lowering overall cholesterol levels. CVD begins to lay the groundwork early in life while problems manifest themselves later in life. This is why it is so important for youth to participate in aerobic activities and develop an active lifestyle. Older people with CVD will also benefit from aerobic exercise but participation should be done under the supervision of a doctor due to the risk of sudden death.

A possible side benefit of intense aerobic exercise is the burning off of toxins from the body as calories are burned. While this is not proven, it does make sense that the heat created by aerobic exercise could act as a catalyst to burn off toxins and help rid the body of them.

A specific time commitment is needed to gain these benefits. At minimum a person must participate in three 20-30 minute workouts per week. Five or six of these workouts will lead to better results. Extending the duration of your workouts will also lead to better results. However, if you are participating in a high impact activity such as running, extended duration increases your risk of overuse injury. Participation in a strength training program will reduce this risk. You must exercise at an elevated heart rate for a full 20-30 minutes. A proper warm up of about five minutes elevates the heart rate and reduces risk of injury. If you are unable to jog, run, bike, swim, etc. at a high enough intensity to elevate your heart rate to 70-80 percent of your maximum heart rate, you will need to increase the duration of the workout to 40-60 minutes in order to gain desired benefits. Your maximum heart rate is determined by subtracting your age from 220.

Remember it takes six to eight weeks to make significant gains in fitness. Use a log to keep track of your workouts to help you stick with the program. You will be glad you did!

Charlie Stephens is a retired P.E. teacher and owner/operator of Kenai Sport & Train, Inc. He can be reached at

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