Aerobic exercise

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A step aerobics exercise instructor in the United States Army motivates her class to keep up the pace.
Cardio and muscle endurance exercise session using plastic steps or platforms

Aerobic exercise (also known as cardio or cardio-respiratory exercise) is physical exercise[1] of low to high intensity that depends primarily on the aerobic energy-generating process.[2] "Aerobic" is defined as "relating to, involving, or requiring free oxygen",[3] and refers to the use of oxygen to adequately meet energy demands during exercise via aerobic metabolism.[4] Aerobic exercise is performed by repeating sequences of light-to-moderate intensity activities for extended periods of time.[2] Aerobic exercise may be better referred to as "solely aerobic", as it is designed to be low-intensity enough that all carbohydrates are aerobically turned into energy via mitochondrial ATP production. Mitochondria are organelles that rely on oxygen for the metabolism of carbs, proteins, and fats.

Examples of cardiovascular or aerobic exercise are medium–to–long distance running or jogging, swimming, cycling, stair climbing and walking.


Archibald Hill, a British physiologist, introduced the concepts of maximal oxygen uptake and oxygen debt in 1922.[5][6] German physician Otto Meyerhof and Hill shared the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their independent work related to muscle energy metabolism.[7] Building on this work, scientists began measuring oxygen consumption during exercise. Notable contributions were made by Henry Taylor at the University of Minnesota and Scandinavian scientists Per-Olof Åstrand and Bengt Saltin in the 1950s and 60s. Contributions were also made by the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory, Copenhagen Muscle Research Centre as well as various German universities. [8][9]

After World War II, health-oriented recreational activities such as jogging became popular.[10] The Royal Canadian Air Force Exercise Plans, developed by Dr. Bill Orban and published in 1961, helped to launch modern fitness culture.[11][12] In the 1970s, there was a running boom. It was inspired by the Olympics, the New-York marathon and the advent of cushioned shoes.[13]

Physical therapists Col. Pauline Potts and Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, both of the United States Air Force, advocated the concept of aerobic exercise. In the 1960s, Cooper started research into preventive medicine. He conducted the first extensive research on aerobic exercise on over 5,000 U.S. Air Force personnel[14][15] after becoming intrigued by the belief that exercise can preserve one's health. Cooper published his ideas in a 1968 book titled, "Aerobics". In 1970, he created his own institute (the Cooper Institute) for non-profit research and education devoted to preventive medicine. He published a mass-market version of his book "The New Aerobics" in 1979. Cooper encouraged millions into becoming active and is now known as the "father of aerobics".[16][17] Cooper's book inspired Jacki Sorensen to create aerobic dancing exercise routines which grew in popularity in the 1970s in the U.S., and at the same time, Judi Missett developed and expanded Jazzercise. Aerobics at home became popular worldwide after the release of Jane Fonda's Workout exercise video in 1982.[18][19] Step aerobics was popular in the 1990s, driven by a step product and program from Reebok shoes.

Fox and Haskell formula showing the split between aerobic (light orange) and anaerobic (dark orange) exercise and heart rate

What qualifies as aerobic exercise[edit]

Aerobic exercise comprises innumerable forms.[20] In general, it is performed at a moderate level of intensity over a relatively long period of time. For example, running a long distance at a moderate pace is an aerobic exercise, but sprinting is not. Playing singles tennis, with near-continuous motion, is generally considered aerobic activity, while golf or two person team tennis, with brief bursts of activity punctuated by more frequent breaks, may not be predominantly aerobic. Some sports are thus inherently "aerobic", while other aerobic exercises, such as fartlek training or aerobic dance classes, are designed specifically to improve aerobic capacity and fitness. It is most common for aerobic exercises to involve the leg muscles, primarily or exclusively. There are some exceptions. For example, rowing to distances of 2,000 meters or more is an aerobic sport that exercises several major muscle groups, including those of the legs, abdominals, chest, and arms.

Aerobic versus anaerobic exercise[edit]

Aerobic exercise and fitness can be contrasted with anaerobic exercise, of which strength training and short-distance running are the most salient examples. The two types of exercise differ by the duration and intensity of muscular contractions involved, as well as by how energy is generated within the muscle.

New research on the endocrine functions of contracting muscles has shown that both aerobic and anaerobic exercise promote the secretion of myokines, with attendant benefits including growth of new tissue, tissue repair, and various anti-inflammatory functions, which in turn reduce the risk of developing various inflammatory diseases.[21] Myokine secretion in turn is dependent on the amount of muscle contracted, and the duration and intensity of contraction. As such, both types of exercise produce endocrine benefits.

In almost all conditions, anaerobic exercise is accompanied by aerobic exercises because the less efficient anaerobic metabolism must supplement the aerobic system due to energy demands that exceed the aerobic system's capacity. Common kettlebell exercises combine aerobic and anaerobic aspects.


Health benefits[edit]

Among the recognized health benefits of doing regular aerobic exercise are:[22][23]

  • Strengthening the muscles involved in respiration, to facilitate the flow of air in and out of the lungs
  • Strengthening and enlarging the heart muscle, to improve its pumping efficiency and reduce the resting heart rate, known as aerobic conditioning
  • Improving circulation efficiency and reducing blood pressure
  • Increasing the total number of red blood cells in the body, facilitating transport of oxygen
  • Improving mental health, including reducing stress and lowering the incidence of depression, as well as increased cognitive capacity.[24][dead link]
  • Slight reductions in depression may also be observed, if aerobic exercises are used as additional treatment for patients with a hematological malignancy [25]
  • Reducing the risk for diabetes (One meta-analysis has shown, from multiple conducted studies, that aerobic exercise does help lower Hb A1Clevels for type 2 diabetics.[26])
  • Reducing the risk of death due to cardiovascular problems

High-impact aerobic activities (such as jogging or using a skipping rope) can:

  • Stimulate bone growth
  • Reduce the risk of osteoporosis for both men and women

Body performance benefits[edit]

In addition to the health benefits of aerobic exercise, there are numerous performance benefits:

  • Increasing storage of energy molecules such as fats and carbohydrates within the muscles, allowing for increased endurance
  • Neovascularization of the muscle sarcomeres to increase blood flow through the muscles
  • Increasing speed at which aerobic metabolism is activated within muscles, allowing a greater portion of energy for intense exercise to be generated aerobically[citation needed]
  • Improving the ability of muscles to use fats during exercise, preserving intramuscular glycogen
  • Enhancing the speed at which muscles recover from high intensity exercise

Neurobiological effects[edit]


Some drawbacks of aerobic exercise include:

  • Overuse injuries because of repetitive, high-impact exercise such as distance running
  • Is not an effective approach to building muscle[citation needed]
  • Not an effective form of fat loss, unless used consistently

Both the health benefits and the performance benefits, or "training effect", require that the duration and the frequency of exercise both exceed a certain minimum. Most authorities suggest at least twenty minutes performed at least three times per week.[27]

Activities similar to aerobic exercise[edit]

  • Higher intensity exercise, such as High-intensity interval training (HIIT), increases the resting metabolic rate (RMR) in the 24 hours following high intensity exercise,[28] ultimately burning more calories than lower intensity exercise; low intensity exercise burns more calories during the exercise, due to the increased duration, but fewer afterwards.

Success in aerobic exercise businesses[edit]

Aerobic exercise has long been a popular approach to achieving weight loss and physical fitness, often taking a commercial form.

  • In the 1970s, Judi Sheppard Missett helped create the market for commercial aerobics with her Jazzercise program,[29] at the same time as Jacki Sorensen was expanding her system of aerobic dancing.[30]
  • In the 1980s, Richard Simmons hosted an aerobic exercise show on television, and followed Jane Fonda's lead by releasing a series of exercise videos.[31]
  • In the 1990s, Billy Blanks's Tae Bo helped popularize cardio-boxing workouts that incorporated martial arts movements.[32] Reebok shoes popularized step aerobics with their Reebok Step device and training program.[33]

Types of aerobic exercise[edit]

Indoor Outdoor Indoor or outdoor
Elliptical trainer Walking Swimming
Indoor rower Cycling Kickboxing
Stationary bicycle Running Skipping rope or jump rope
Treadmill Cross-country skiing Circuit training
Aerobic dancing Cross-country running Jumping jacks
Jazzercise Nordic walking Water aerobics
Step aerobics Inline skating Jogging
Skateboarding Stair climbing

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Exercise and Physical Fitness". Retrieved 2020-04-30.
  2. ^ a b Sharon A. Plowman; Denise L. Smith (1 June 2007). Exercise Physiology for Health, Fitness, and Performance. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-7817-8406-1. Retrieved 13 October 2011.
  3. ^ Can stress heal?. Thomas Nelson Inc. 1997. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-7852-8315-7. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  4. ^ William D. McArdle; Frank I. Katch; Victor L. Katch (2006). Essentials of exercise physiology. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 204. ISBN 978-0-7817-4991-6. Retrieved 13 October 2011.
  5. ^ Hale T (February 2008). "History of developments in sport and exercise physiology: A. V. Hill, maximal oxygen uptake, and oxygen debt". Journal of Sports Sciences. 26 (4): 365–400. doi:10.1080/02640410701701016. PMID 18228167. S2CID 33768722.
  6. ^ Bassett DR, Howley ET (May 1997). "Maximal oxygen uptake: "classical" versus "contemporary" viewpoints". Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 29 (5): 591–603. doi:10.1097/00005768-199705000-00002. PMID 9140894.
  7. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1922". Retrieved 2018-10-11.
  8. ^ Seiler S (2011). "A Brief History of Endurance Testing in Athletes" (PDF). SportScience. 15 (5).
  9. ^ "History of Exercise Physiology". Human Kinetics Europe. Retrieved 2018-10-11.
  10. ^ Fit Bodies. Fitness Culture and Gym Sassatelli, Roberta. 2006.
  11. ^ Krucoff C (1998-06-22). "Going Back to the Basics With Calisthenics". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-10-08. In fact, the popularity of the Royal Canadian Air Force's calisthenics program in the late 1950s helped launch the modern fitness movement.
  12. ^ "Five basic exercises for fitness in 1961". CBC Archives. Retrieved 2018-10-08. The program became famous worldwide.
  13. ^ Stracher, Cameron. "Running on Empty: An American Sports Tradition Fades". Retrieved 2018-10-11.
  14. ^ Cooper KH (1983) [1968]. Aerobics (revised, reissue ed.). Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0553274479.
  15. ^ Netburn D (March 30, 2009), "Dr. Kenneth Cooper got a nation moving through aerobics", Los Angeles Times
  16. ^ ""Father of Aerobics" Kenneth Cooper, MD, MPH to receive Healthy Cup Award from Harvard School of Public Health". News. 2008-04-16. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  17. ^ "Dr. Kenneth Cooper and How He Became Known as the Father of Aerobics". Club Industry. 2008-09-01. Archived from the original on 2018-10-09. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  18. ^ "The Fitness Revolution. Historical Transformations in a Global Gym and Fitness Culture". ResearchGate. Retrieved 2018-10-07.
  19. ^ Stern M (2008). "The Fitness Movement and the Fitness Center Industry, 1960-2000" (PDF). Business and Economic History On-line. Retrieved 2018-10-07.
  20. ^ "Exercise and Physical Fitness". Retrieved 2020-04-30.
  21. ^ Patel H, Alkhawam H, Madanieh R, Shah N, Kosmas CE, Vittorio TJ (February 2017). "vs anaerobic exercise training effects on the cardiovascular system". World Journal of Cardiology. 9 (2): 134–138. doi:10.4330/wjc.v9.i2.134. PMC 5329739. PMID 28289526.
  22. ^ "Aerobic exercise: the health benefits". myDr. 11 January 2010. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  23. ^ "Benefits of Exercise". Retrieved 2020-04-30.
  24. ^ "Cardiovascular fitness is linked to intelligence".
  25. ^ Knips L, Bergenthal N, Streckmann F, Monsef I, Elter T, Skoetz N, et al. (Cochrane Haematological Malignancies Group) (January 2019). "Aerobic physical exercise for adult patients with haematological malignancies". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 1: CD009075. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009075.pub3. PMC 6354325. PMID 30702150.
  26. ^ Snowling, N. J., & Hopkins, W. G. (2006). Effects of Different Modes of Exercise Training on Glucose Control and Risk Factors for Complications in Type 2 Diabetic Patients A meta-analysis. Diabetes Care, 29(11), 518–2527.
  27. ^ 'aerobic exercise', Food and Fitness: A Dictionary of Diet and Exercise, Michael Kent, Oxford University Press, 1997.
  28. ^ East Tennessee State University Thesis Archived March 19, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  29. ^ Hallett V (July 8, 2014). "Jazzercise: After 45 years, it's still here, and it's still evolving". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 8, 2014.
  30. ^ McCormack, Patricia (October 16, 1981). "Womans' World: Aerobic Dancing: 'hips, hips' away!". United Press International. Retrieved September 17, 2020.
  31. ^ "Richard Simmons", Wikipedia, 2020-04-28, retrieved 2020-04-30
  32. ^ "Billy Blanks", Wikipedia, 2020-04-23, retrieved 2020-04-30
  33. ^ Hartford, Teresa (September 23, 2019). "Step Reebok's Rise To Success… With Angel Martinez". SGB Online. Retrieved September 20, 2020.


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