At least 30 minutes of daily aerobic activity — such as walking, bicycling or swimming — can help you live longer and healthier. See how aerobic exercise affects your heart, lungs and blood flow. Then get motivated to reap the rewards!
How your body responds to aerobic exercise
During aerobic activity, you repeatedly move large muscles in your arms, legs and hips. You’ll notice your body’s responses quickly.
You’ll breathe faster and more deeply. This maximizes the amount of oxygen in your blood. Your heart will beat faster, which increases blood flow to your muscles and back to your lungs. Your small blood vessels (capillaries) will widen to deliver more oxygen to your muscles and carry away waste products, such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid. Your body will even release endorphins, natural painkillers that promote an increased sense of well-being.
What aerobic exercise does for your health
Regardless of age, weight or athletic ability, aerobic activity is good for you. As your body adapts to regular aerobic exercise, you’ll get stronger and more efficient. Consider 10 ways that aerobic activity can help you feel better and enjoy life to the fullest.
Aerobic activity can help you:
- Keep excess pounds at bay. Combined with a healthy diet, aerobic exercise helps you lose weight — and keep it off.
- Increase your stamina. Aerobic exercise may make you tired in the short term. But over the long term, you’ll enjoy increased stamina and reduced fatigue.
- Ward off viral illnesses. Aerobic exercise activates your immune system. This leaves you less susceptible to minor viral illnesses, such as colds and flu.
- Reduce health risks. Aerobic exercise reduces the risk of many conditions, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke and certain types of cancer. Weight-bearing aerobic exercises, such as walking, reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
- Manage chronic conditions. Aerobic exercise helps lower high blood pressure and control blood sugar. If you’ve had a heart attack, aerobic exercise helps prevent subsequent attacks.
- Strengthen your heart. A stronger heart doesn’t need to beat as fast. A stronger heart also pumps blood more efficiently, which improves blood flow to all parts of your body.
- Keep your arteries clear. Aerobic exercise boosts your high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol and lowers your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol. The potential result? Less buildup of plaques in your arteries.
- Boost your mood. Aerobic exercise can ease the gloominess of depression, reduce the tension associated with anxiety and promote relaxation.
- Stay active and independent as you get older. Aerobic exercise keeps your muscles strong, which can help you maintain mobility as you get older. Aerobic exercise also keeps your mind sharp. At least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three days a week seems to reduce cognitive decline in older adults.
- Live longer. People who participate in regular aerobic exercise appear to live longer than those who don’t exercise regularly.
Aerobic activity is safe for most people, but sometimes it’s important to get a doctor’s OK first — especially if you have a chronic health condition. When you’re ready to begin exercising, start slowly. You might walk five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening. The next day, add a few minutes to each walking session. Pick up the pace a bit, too. Soon, you could be walking briskly for at least 30 minutes a day — and reaping all the benefits of regular aerobic activity.
Other options might include cross-country skiing, aerobic dancing, swimming, stair climbing, bicycling, jogging, elliptical training or rowing. If you have a condition that limits your ability to participate in aerobic activities, ask your doctor about alternatives. If you have arthritis, for example, aquatic exercises may give you the benefits of aerobic activity without stressing your joints.