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Regular aerobic exercise and its benefits

What is aerobic exercise?

By saying exercise, we mean the systematic physical activity during which oxygen consumption per minute (VO2) increases together with the heart rate.

During aerobic exercise – in contrast to anaerobic exercise – the oxygen of the air we breathe is sufficient to burn the substrates (carbohydrates and lipids) for energy production in our body without consumption of stored energy. Examples of aerobic exercise are brisk walking, cycling, jogging, swimming, dancing etc.

During training, the heart rate, or the number of heart beats per minute, increases. The heart rate is a reliable gauge of our physical condition and training level, but is also affected by psychosomatic (stress, disease, fatigue) and environmental factors (cold, heat). Control of our heart rate during training is a right method to listen to our body and have the right tempo each time we train.

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How intensively and for how long do I need to exercise each time?

In general, proper aerobic exercise requires a training intensity of 60-80%. At this level of intensity, endurance and aerobic fitness improve and burning of subcutaneous fat is particularly favoured.

Exercise at a higher intensity (80-100%) intends to increase the anaerobic fitness and to improve competitive speed, whereas excercise at a lower intensity (50-60%) is recommended to beginners or for recovery after strenuous exercise.

A very useful instrument to monitor our training inensity is the cardio watch (or heart rate monitor watch), which is a watch that displays our heart rate at each moment. It consists of two items: the watch (receiver) and the chest belt (transmitter), which transmits the heart rate to the watch in a wireless fashion and with the precision of an electrocardiogram. A plain cardio watch costs less than 100 euro.

To calculate the heart rate of a person during exercise in order that a chosen level of training intensity is achieved, we need to know their age and heart rate at rest. Namely:

(1) We count their resting heart rate, i.e. the minimum heart rate the person may have while awake, e.g. when waking up in the morning but before getting out of bed

(2) We find the maximum heart rate allowed for their age. This is quite precisely calculated using Cooper’s formula, i.e. finding the difference: 217 – (0,85 x age in years) or more simply: 220 – age in years

(3) We find their heart rate reserve, by calculating the difference: maximum heart rate – resting heart rate

(4) We find the target zone of their heart rate during exercise in order that a certain training intensity is achieved (e.g. 70%), by calculating: (heart rate reserve x 70%) + resting heart rate

For example: If a 45-year-old person, whose maximum permitted heart rate is 179 (beats per minute, b.p.m.) as we can easily find, has a resting heart rate of 62 (b.p.m.), and wants to achieve a training intensity of 70%, he/she must maintain a heart rate of 144 (b.p.m.) during exercise

WARNING! In case you are on medications – such as Inderal, Lopresor, Tenormin – for hypertension, dysrythmia (or disturbed heart rate), coronary artery disease or other heart disease, discuss with your doctor before you set the targets of your training intensity.

Exercise can be considered regular, if its duration is at least 3-3.5 hours per week, i.e. the average of over 25-30 minutes per day.

Ideally, the intervals between training sessions should not exceed 48 hours.

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Are there any proven benefits of aerobic exercise?

Potential advantages of regular aerobic training, as they have been documented with scientific studies, include:

  1. Reduction of blood glucose (both during and after exercise) and increase of the sensitivity of tissues to insulin. Beneficial effectdecreasing (by 50-60%) the chance of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus in people with predisposition, and achieving better blood sugar control in diabetics
  2. Reduction of blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic). Beneficial effectpreventing high blood pressure or lowering it if it’s already high
  3. Improved levels of blood lipids, namely reduction of bad (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, and increase of good (HDL) cholesterol
  4. Improved fibrinolysis and reduced plasma fibrinogen levels
  5. Improved cardiovascular condition. Beneficial effect of actions 3, 4 & 5preventing buildup of plaques in the arteries and formation of clots in the bloodstream that can lead to heart attack or stroke
  6. Improved muscle strength and maintainance of joint function relieving stiffness and reducing pain and fatigue. Beneficial effectincreasing flexibility in many joints (particularly helpful in degenerative osteoarthritis of knees and hips)
  7. Fighting the decline in immune function that happens with age. Beneficial effectleaving you less susceptible to minor viral illnesses, such as colds and flu, as well as to certain types of cancer
  8. Improved memory and lower risk for dementia
  9. Improved feeling of well-being (both physical and mental)
  10. Better quality of life

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Last modified 10/10/2016