Understanding aerobic exercise and its role in lifestyle and athleticism is a critical early step to unlocking performance and health. And developing a tailored, personalized plan you can consistently accomplish is key to building the foundation for fitness.
So move from the couch to 5k or beyond by learning how aerobic exercise improves mental focus, brain function, all while enhancing balance, coordination, and metabolism.
Aerobic exercise is a mainstay of a healthy lifestyle and athletic performance
Aerobic training is considered an endurance type of exercise that increases your body’s cardiovascular system’s efficiency. During aerobic activity, the muscles are working but not at the intensity and immediacy of anaerobic workloads. Perceived exertion is lower, and the body primarily relies upon oxygen, which in turn means it can be performed at a high aerobic capacity for longer.
Aerobic training is also referred to as moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking, jogging, and swimming. At this intensity, your heart rate should roughly be 60% of your estimated max found when you subtract your age from 220.
The main benefit of aerobic exercise is its ability to increase the body’s efficiency. This means that after completing a training session, the body will perform everyday activities, such as climbing stairs and lifting boxes. The other main benefit is that it can help maintain a healthy weight, which reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Some experts suggest that aerobic exercise can also reduce the risk of developing some types of cancer.
It’s a common misconception that a regular exercise program makes you tired. Aerobic exercise can make you less tired. Aerobic exercise improves your overall physical condition by increasing your stamina and endurance. It increases your ability to do more without becoming fatigued.
More oxygen, please
Exercising at different intensities, with multiple loads and durations, can elicit different metabolic responses. Low-intensity exercise (50–60% of VO2 max) produces mostly aerobic metabolism. During moderate-intensity exercise (65–75% of VO2 max) the lactate threshold is being challenged, and the body may rely on anaerobic metabolism for energy. Finally, maximal (100% of VO2 max) and supramaximal exercise (exceeding 100% of VO2 max) can lead to lactic acidosis, which is when blood lactate levels rise higher than they can be removed.
The first published studies to distinguish aerobic from anaerobic exercise were by Archibald Hill, a British physiologist. Hill ran experiments in the early 1900s to measure oxygen consumption during exercise.
The higher level of oxygen consumption is called “VO2 max,” a measure of aerobic capacity and cardiovascular health. It is a standard measurement in sport science and exercise physiology laboratories. However, VO2 max alone does not entirely describe the physiological costs of exercise.
Aerobic exercise requires oxygen to produce energy within the body. While this may seem self-explanatory, the process of how oxygen is brought into the body and used by the muscles to produce energy is a bit more complicated.
In response to aerobic exercise, muscles pump blood more frequently to deliver oxygen for energy production. During training, your heart rate increases, and breathing rate will also increase to bring oxygen into your body. With an increase in breathing rate, the muscles work harder to deliver the necessary oxygen and remove carbon dioxide.
The process of oxygen delivery is a cooperative effort between the respiratory and circulatory systems. The respiratory system provides 60-70% of the overall oxygen transport, and the circulatory system offers 30-40%. Oxygen is transferred to red blood cells in the lung, which carry oxygen throughout the body and deliver it to active tissues needed for energy production.
So it is any exercise that requires oxygen, both endurance, and high intensity, to improve your cardiorespiratory fitness, general health, and athletic performance markers.
How our bodies adapt to aerobic work
Your body is a fantastic machine that adapts to the activity you subject it to. This is the foundation of the principle of training adaptation. This means that when you repeatedly put your body through a specific stimulus, it will adapt and become better at handling that stimulus in the future.
As an example, a deconditioned individual might have a VO2max of 35 ml//kg/min. At the same time, an elite athlete may have a similar output of up to 92 ml/kg/min.
With aerobic improvements, you will breathe faster and more deeply to maximize an oxygenated bloodstream. Your heart will beat more efficiently, which increases blood flow to your muscles and back to your lungs.
Capillaries will widen to deliver the improved oxygen saturation to your muscles and carry away metabolic ‘waste,’ like lactic acid and carbon dioxide.