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The Science of Excercise

Aerobic Exercise: Everything You Need to Know

A man runs with his phone strapped to his arm.
(Image credit: Maridav/

Aerobic exercises are activities that work your cardiovascular system — they get your heart rate up and make you breathe harder. They are what people often think of when they hear the word "exercise."

Examples of aerobic exercise include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Running or jogging
  • Swimming
  • Playing a sport such as tennis, soccer or basketball
  • Dancing
  • Chores such as raking leaves or mowing the lawn

Health benefits of aerobic exercise include:

  • Improved health of heart, lungs and circulatory system. Aerobic exercise strengthens the heart so it pumps blood more efficiently, and also lowers your overall resting heart rate, according to the Mayo Clinic. This type of exercise also increases levels of "good" cholesterol and lowers levels of "bad" cholesterol, which, in turn, can reduce the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, including stroke
  • Lowered risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Lowered blood pressure and improved blood fat levels

Doing aerobic exercise can also have other long-term advantages. A recent study of 1.4 million people in the United States and Europe found that high amounts of aerobic exercise were linked with a reduced risk of 13 types of cancer. And a large study of more than 660,000 people found that the people who did 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week were 31 percent less likely to die over a 14-year period than those who did not engage in any physical activity.

How much aerobic exercise do you need?

According to the most recent physical activity guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), adults should do at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking) per week. There are many ways to divide up those 150 minutes over the course of a week, but most experts recommend breaking up that time into 30 minutes of physical activity, five days per week.

If you pick a vigorous type of activity, like running, for your workout, you don't have to do quite as much. The HHS guidelines say that 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous activity per week is equivalent to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week. [How Many Calories Am I Burning? (Infographic)]

How can you avoid injury when doing aerobic exercise?

The main risks of aerobic activity come from exercising too hard and too fast at the start of a workout, said said Kelly Drew, an exercise physiologist with the American College of Sports Medicine. When starting out, people should stay at a pace that feels comfortable, she said.

Dr. Edward Laskowski, co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center in Rochester, Minnesota, recommended that people use the mantra, "start out low, and progress slow." This means starting with a level of activity that's fairly light, and gradually increasing the duration and intensity of your exercise sessions.

People with joint problems should also avoid high-impact exercises, such as exercise that involves a lot of jumping. Instead, they should stick with low-impact exercises, like riding on a stationary bicycle, using an elliptical machine or doing water exercises, Laskowski said.

Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner
Rachael Rettner

Rachael has been with Live Science since 2010. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.