Researchers continue to investigate the frequency, duration, and type of exercise (e.g., aerobic and anaerobic exercise) that provides the most cardiovascular health benefits. Often, aerobic conditioning is reported in research to be an important type of exercise for lowering CVD risk. So, what is aerobic conditioning, and what are its health benefits?
Aerobic conditioning – what is it exactly?
Aerobic activities refer to exercises that are of a particular intensity, interval and incorporates certain muscle fibers. For example, the American College of Sports Medicine describes an aerobic workout as an activity that uses large muscle groups in a rhythmic manner and can be done for an extended period of time.
In aerobic exercises, the active muscle groups need oxygen to create the energy to fuel their work. The maximum amount of oxygen that the cardiorespiratory system can supply and that the muscles can use is called aerobic capacity.
For aerobic exercises, it is important that the muscles being used have enough oxygen to sustain their effort. When a person has been physically inactive for an extended period of time, usually their aerobic capacity will decrease.
Research has found that poor aerobic capacity due to physical inactivity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Aerobic conditioning, or cardiovascular conditioning, can help improve aerobic capacity when weekly physical activity recommendations set by health agencies/organizations are followed.
Which exercises are considered aerobic?
There are a variety of exercises that are considered aerobic, including dancing, swimming, cycling, hiking, and running, among many others. Some aerobic activities, such brisk walking, are considered moderate-intensity. Moderate-intensity usually refers to aerobic activities that will raise your heart rate and make you sweat but you could still talk through the workout.
Other aerobic activities, including playing tennis or swimming laps, are considered vigorous-intensity. If you are completing vigorous-intensity aerobic training, your heart rate is really raised, you are breathing fast, and you can’t talk much during the activity.
How long and how often do you need aerobic activity?
It is recommended that adults take at least 30 minutes at a time to be physically active (moderate-intensity) on most days of the week. More specifically, it is generally recommended for adults to get a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activities.
In addition to aerobic activities each week, it is recommended that adults include a moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity – a form of anaerobic exercise – at least two days a week.
Children, ages 6-17, should get a minimum of 60 minutes a day of moderate- to vigorous- aerobic activity.
If you have a chronic condition or other health concerns, talk to your doctor about the type, intensity, and duration of physical activity that they recommend for you.
What are the benefits of aerobic conditioning?
Research indicates that there are numerous health benefits associated with aerobic conditioning, including preventing or reversing CVD development by reducing risk factors such as hypertension and improving cardiorespiratory fitness. It is thought that health benefits may be experienced even with minor improvements in weekly aerobic activities. In fact, research shows that individuals who were previously physically inactive may experience the greatest health improvements after becoming physically active.
There are numerous ways that aerobic conditioning may reduce the risk of developing CVD and the mortality outcomes associated with CVD. For example, it may increase levels of “good” cholesterol – called high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – and reduce blood pressure. Also, a potential effect of aerobic training is improved coronary blood flow. Other possible effects include improved glucose homeostasis and insulin sensitivity, which may reduce the risk of diabetes mellites, a risk factor for CVD. A health benefit of aerobic activity that impacts CVD and other chronic diseases is reduced chronic inflammation.
Other potential effects of aerobic conditioning are weight loss and a reduction in the risk of developing certain cancers, such as breast or colon cancer.
Aerobic exercise improves thinking skills
A study compared aerobic exercise such as walking or running with a stationary activity building up core strength. The researchers found that the benefits of aerobic exercise are not only in BMI reduction but in a significant improvement in cognitive function.
The aerobic exercise group also had increased cortical thickness in the left frontal region of the brain. Most interestingly, executive function significantly improved in the aerobic exercise group, and the positive effect increased with age.
An increase in cortical thickness of brains in people performing aerobic exercise suggests that these people may be more resistant to cognitive decline associated with aging.
Younger populations can also benefit from aerobic exercise. Another study examined how 51 university students performed in a classroom setting after being vigorously or moderately active. The study revealed that one of the benefits of aerobic exercise is that it allowed the participants to better concentrate in the presence of distractions.
Aerobic exercise and depression
Researchers have reported that aerobic exercises have significant antidepressant effects comparable to psychological therapy or antidepressant medication.
There were significant antidepressant effects in short-term interventions lasting four weeks and in trials where people preferred exercise. In both inpatients and outpatients, aerobic exercises had comparable effects in various settings and across various delivery formats.
Aerobic exercise for PMS
Researchers have reported improvements in symptoms of PMS in participants who took part in aerobic exercise. One study reported reductions in symptoms of nausea, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, and swelling. Other symptoms that were eased in the exercise group were bloating, vomiting, increased appetite, and hot flashes.
The results of the study suggested that consistent aerobic exercise positively impacts symptoms typically seen in PMS.
Aerobic exercise for Alzheimer’s disease prevention
In a pilot study, researchers investigated the potential of regular aerobic exercise in Alzheimer’s disease prevention. Researchers recruited 23 late-to-middle-age volunteers with a family history or a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s disease. The volunteers were generally healthy but had a sedentary lifestyle. They were randomly assigned to participate in a supervised 26-week program of moderate-intensity aerobic treadmill training three times per week or to receive general advice on maintaining a healthy life but no training program.
Participants in the exercise group improved their cardiorespiratory fitness, spent less time sedentary following the training program, and performed better on most aspects of the cognitive tests than those in the other group. The improved cardiorespiratory fitness was associated with increased brain glucose metabolism in an area of the brain that is linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Aerobic exercise in concussion recovery
A study published in JAMA Pediatrics assessed the effectiveness of aerobic exercise that does not worsen concussion symptoms versus a stretching program prescribed to adolescents recovering from a sport-related concussion.
The researchers studied how many days it took the patients to recover from their concussion. Aerobic exercise patients recovered in an average of 13 days, whereas stretching patients recovered in an average of 17 days.
Although this was a small study, this was the first clinical trial to show aerobic exercise that does not worsen concussion symptoms may potentially be a viable concussion treatment for adolescents with concussion symptoms to return to sports more quickly than resting.
If you are recovering from a concussion, it is important to follow your doctor’s guidance on returning to physical activity.
Aerobic conditioning vs. anaerobic conditioning
While aerobic activities should be sustainable for a period of time, anaerobic activities describe an intense, short duration of physical activity. Unlike aerobic exercises, it does not require oxygen to generate energy for the muscles involved.
Examples of anaerobic activities include weightlifting, sprinting, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and pull-ups, among many others. These activities typically work to strengthen muscles and/or bones. In contrast, aerobic activities focus more on strengthening one’s aerobic capacity.
Why is cardiorespiratory fitness so important?
Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death for both men and women in the US and Canada. According to the American Heart Association, it is expected to become even more common. While there are many risk factors, it is considered to be a largely preventable disease.
A common risk factor is physical inactivity. Research indicates that a sedentary lifestyle has negative consequences on the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and the associated mortality outcomes.
In reality, most adults do not get enough exercise each week to meet the recommendations for maintaining good health. Yet, adequate physical activity has been found to have numerous health benefits, including lowering the risk for cardiovascular disease and improving risk factors such as hypertension.
As always, seek medical advice before beginning any exercise program to make sure it is right for you.
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