Aerobics Information Page



Aerobic exercise is the most important part of a fitness program for many people because it improves health and mental well being. I often suggest that people start their fitness journey with aerobic activity like fitness walking. It includes all formal/structured fitness based physical activity which is done for sustained periods of time ( > 1 or 2 minutes). Use this page to gain a further knowledge of aerobic exercise and how to perform it properly.

Key Point:

Aerobic exercise impacts your health in many ways. It reduces the risk of many conditions, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stroke and certain types of cancer. Weight-bearing aerobic exercises, such as walking, help decrease the risk of osteoporosis as well. Simply put aerobic exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. This improves heart and lung health, which gives you more energy to tackle daily chores.

Where to start?

I often suggest starting with a basic walking program either on a treadmill or outdoors. Try to move at a pace that feels comfortable, but where you know you are moving. Try to do 10 or more minutes and build on that. When your pace gets easy pick it up. Just do what you can do and make it work for you. If it is too much you will not stick with it. It would be great if you can build up 30 to 60 minutes a day most days per week.  As you progress you can work between  several intervals of 1 minute moderate with 1 minute higher intensity. This is known as interval training. It could be as easy as going from 2.7 mph for 1 minute to 3.2 mph for 1 minute and repeating that a few times. Keep it simple :) This program can be done with most exercise machines. Besides walking elliptical and exercise bikes are great machines to start with as well because the amount of resistance can be adjusted to accomodate your fitness level.

Aerobics 101

What is aerobic (cardiovascular fitness)?

Aerobic (cardiovascular) fitness is one of the most important components of physical fitness. It is your ability to continuously perform physical work like walking, shoveling, running, etc. It is different from short burst of power as in lifting or pushing a heavy object or a short sprint, which are termed anaerobic (absence of oxygen).

It is directly related to your heart’s and overall health.

It is a measured of the maximum amount of oxygen transported in the blood and pumped by the heart to the working muscles and as the efficiency of the muscles to use that oxygen at your maximum effort. It is called VO 2 max. VO2 max can be expressed in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute (see aerobic fitness tests in right column).

Did You Know that Better Cardio Fitness Predicts a Longer Life

Having good cardiovascular fitness has many health benefits as mentioned, but did you know that there's no such thing as too much aerobic exercise, according to a large new study, which found no upper limit to the benefits of aerobic fitness in terms of reducing risk of death (see study).

Cardio Fitness Basics

The heart is like any other muscle - it becomes stronger and more efficient after practice. Cardiovascular fitness is best improved by activities, which employ large muscle groups working dynamically. Such activities include walking, jogging, running, swimming, skating, cycling, stair climbing and cross-country skiing. There are two main forms of cardiovascular training 1) Continuous - where you keep the same intensity for the length of the workout like a fitness walk 2) Interval Training - where you have defined periods of low and high intensity (this is sometimes referred to as HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training). Both have their benefits and both can be done by someone who is healthy (more on this below). The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 5 to 7 days per week (more recommendations below). Don't forget warm-up, cool-down and stretching exercises in your aerobic exercise session.


How do you improve aerobic fitness?

The Basics:

          To increase aerobic fitness perform aerobic activity (walking, running, biking, stair climbing elliptical etc.) moderately for 20-30 minutes when starting an aerobic program (base training). This can be split in two multiple sessions. Try to do most days of the week.

          After a few weeks of base training perform aerobic activities vigorously at points where the intensity is Somewhat Hard to Difficult for 30 seconds or more for several repetitions. To improve aerobic fitness you need to work more vigorously than what you are use to.

          Vigorous activities may cause the heart to beat faster, sweating, muscle burn, breathing to become labored, and talking to become difficult.

          Vigorous activity can be performed with most forms of aerobic activities

          One of the best forms of vigorous activities is interval training (some call it High Intensity Interval Training). It is a sequence of 2 or more intervals of high and low intensity aerobic activity.

          Two or four sessions of vigorous activity is suggested per week in combination with two or more sessions of moderate activity

          The best way to judge exercise intensity if through RPE (rating of perceived exertion)-see how to use RPE, test yourself, and monitor exercise in section to the right.

          Vigorous activity is relative to the individual and should not approach a RPE of 10 (extremely hard) unless highly fit. What can be vigorous to an unfit person may be moderate to someone fit.

          When adding vigorous activity keep RPE to a 4-5 (somewhat hard to hard) is suggested for most. See chart below.

          Keep aerobic activity to no more than 1 hour a day to avoid overuse injuries

          It is always important when doing vigorous activities to warm up before and could down after.

     See examples of moderate and vigorous activities below, but these charts do not work for all. Example: A fit person might think walking 4 mph modearte while an unfit person might feel that to be vigorous. Find your own moderate and vigorous exercise levels. See right column for more information regarding intensity.

Why do vigorous exercise?

Improvements in aerobic ability have been found to be greater when exercise is done more intensely. Vigorous exercise is relative to each person, but it is where you are working harder than moderate pace, breathing and talking is more labored. Studies have shown just few minutes a day of vigorous activities like stair climbing and interval training can improve aerobic fitness. One study found vigorously climbing three-flight stairwell, three times per day, separated by one to four hours of recovery three or more days a week increased aerobic fitness. Another found that a stair climbing test predicts the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other causes. Good performance on the test equates to climbing three floors of stairs very fast, or four floors fast, without stopping. See the benefits and concerns of interval training at Interval Training Benefits and Downsides.

Why warm Up and Cool Down and how to do it?

Every session of aerobic exercise should include a warm-up and cool-down. The warm-up period should not just focus on static stretching, but should instead be a gradual increase in pace and intensity of the exercise. This allows for the body to increase blood flow to the muscles, and decreases the likelihood of a cardiovascular issues or muscle or joint injury. The warm-up should last between 5 and 10 minutes. The cool-down session should last a similar amount of time as the warm-up, with the pace gradually decreasing. Stretching exercises would be appropriate after aerobic exercise (see our stretching page).

How do you progress aerobic exercise?

Progression to higher intensities of exercise should be based on individual exercise tolerance. There are 3 methods for challenging aerobic fitness:

          Increase the speed

          Increase the resistance

          Increase the duration

Any of these methods, or a combination of these methods, will improve aerobic fitness. Increasing intensity should be done very gradually. Generally progression should be done only by 5% or less a week. You should challenge yourself for only a few minutes at a time. After a period of progression just try to maintain your new gained level of fitness.

How Much is Too Much when it comes to aerobic exercise?

Meeting the current aerobic exercise recommendations mentioned is key but is it worth exceeding that amount? Researchers suggest that pinning down just how much exercise qualifies as “too much” will likely vary between individuals and depend on a variety of factors – including their age, health history and lifestyle. I always suggest to meet or surpass the recommendation, but not to exceed 1 hour a day of cardiovascular exercise. When it comes to vigorous exercise, which includes high intensity interval training, I suggest performing two to no more than four sessions a week. The research on this centers on injury prevention - there is considerable research of musculoskeletal injuries in those who exercise more than 1 hour a day. One study found that runners who log between .15 and 15 miles per week (a wide range) benefit from an estimated 19 percent reduction in mortality rates, those who consistently surpass 25 weekly miles have a risk of death comparable to those who don’t exercise. Further investigation is warranted to determine if an upper cutoff for the health benefits of exercise exists. 

What are aerobic activities and is interval training aerobics?

Aerobic activities are those which are rhythmical and continuous (examples: walking, running, biking) which can be sustained for prolonged periods of time (generally greater than 1 minute). Less time than that is typically termed anaerobic, especially if it is high intensity where you can not sustain the activity more than 30 to 60 seconds. 

Interval training is a system of organizing cardiorespiratory training or other forms of training which calls for repeated bouts of short duration, higher intensity exercise intervals intermingled with periods of lower intensity intervals of active recovery. Moderate interval training requires participants to work at a moderate to somewhat hard intensity between intervals of recovery. This is aerobic exercise. High intensity interval training requires participants to work vigorously at 65 to 100% of maximum or within zone 2 (VT1) or zone 3 (VT2) between intervals of recovery. This is a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercise (anaerobic means the absence of oxygen and it is were lactic acid accumulates, which may cause that burn sensation). Key Point: One minute intervals have been suggested to be superior to intervals of shorter duration in developing aerobic capacity. Shorter duration intervals of less than a minute have been termed Sprint Interval Training or SIT.

Exercise becomes less aerobic and more anaerobic when your breathing changes.

When breathing becomes noticeable you have reached the ventilatory threshold one (VT1) or RPE of 4=somewhat hard, which is a combination of aerobic and anaerobic. When it becomes deep and somewhat rapid you have reached ventilatory threshold 2 (VT2) or RPE 5 to 6=hard. At ventilatory threshold (VT3) breathing is extremely difficult to impossible or RPE of 7 to 10=extremely hard to have to stop; here the predominant energy pathway is anaerobic ( see charts to right ).

Moderate interval training is typically good for most while those aspiring to increase performance and are healthy should perform vigorous aerobic activity once or more times per a week. That being said it would be highly suggested that most who are healthy should try to get a few minutes a couple times a week of vigorous activity like stair climbing. Stair climbing 3-4 flights of stairs 2-4 times a day to be a potent form of vigorous aerobic activity. High Intensity Interval training using moderate to vigorous activity is a mix of aerobic and anaerobic activity.

Does Cardiovascular fitness changes as one ages?

Cardiovascular fitness is related to age, gender, exercise habits, heredity and cardiovascular clinical status. Maximum values occur between ages 15 and 30 years, decreasing progressively with age. At the age of 60, the mean maximal aerobic power in men is approximately three fourths of that at the age of 20. With sedentary lifestyle, there is a 10 % reduction in the mean maximal aerobic power per decade after the age of 30, the reduction with an active lifestyle is less than 5 %.

Are You Aerobic Fit?

To Understand Aerobic Fitness you have to understand exercise intensity.

The Fitter you are the more activity, work, power, speed, and/or effort you can endure (ie the more intense you can move).

Self Aerobic Tests and Understanding Exercise Intensity

Do you have good aerobic fitness?

An easy way to find out is to look at your Heart Rate.

Low Resting Heart Rate and Faster Exercise Recovery Heart Rate are easy to measure signs of fitness

Heart rate is a quantitative measure of heart's work. At rest a healthy heart of an average individual beats approximately 70-100 beats per minute. A conditioned heart beats much less at rest, only 40 to 50 beats per minute or even less and less at workloads compared to someone who is unconditioned. Heart rate variability is a quality measure of heart's work. The lower the resting heart rate the higher the heart rate variability, and thus the better the quality of heart's functions. You can see yourself improving from exercise if your heart rate is lower at the same workloads that you were previously doing - it is a sign that you heart is more efficient. Another good sign of heart efficiency is if your recovery heart rate is quicker after exercise. If you do not have a heart rate monitor you can easily measure it at your wrist (see how).

Fast Recovery Heart Rate is a good thing

Heart rate should be able to drop 12 beats within first minute of exercise recovery

Recovery Heart Rate

Your Recovery Heart Rate, the speed at which your heart rate returns to normal after exercise, can indicate how fit you are as well as a physical cardiac condition and the risk of certain diseases. For instance, according to the a study in the New England Journal of Medicine people whose heart rate recovery time is long are at a higher risk of death than people with shorter recovery times regardless of physical condition or other risk factors. The first minute of recovery is the most crucial. After exercise, your heart rate experiences an abrupt drop during the first minute. In this study a heart rate decrease of 12 beats or less in the first minute as abnormal.

The study also reported that people with an abnormal decline in heart rate had a greater chance of mortality in the subsequent six years due to heart problems. Some suggest possible abnormality if less than or equal to 18 beats. Additionally the National Emergency Medicine Association suggests measuring heart rate recovery rates is one way to tell whether an exercise program is effective. People in better cardiovascular condition tend to have lower heart rates during peak exercise, and return to their resting heart rate more quickly after physical activity. Subtract your 2-minute heart rate from the heart rate you took immediately after vigorous exercise.  The faster your heart rate recovers (or slows down ) after 2 minutes the fitter and healthier your heart.

See if your 2 Minute Exercise Recovery after vigorous exercise is:

     • Less than 22:  Your biological age is slightly older than your calendar age.

     • 22-52:  Your biological age is about the same as your calendar age.

     • 53-58:  Your biological age is slightly younger than your calendar age.

     • 59-65:  Your biological age is moderately younger than your calendar age.

     • 66 or more:  Your biological age is a lot younger than your calendar age.

Take an Easy Exercise Test

An easy way to determine how aerobically fit you are  is just walk a mile as fast as you can. If you can walk a mile in 14-15 minutes (3.7 - 4 mph) you have a fair level of aerobic ability. Another easy way is to climb stairs fast. If you can climb four flights of stair fast (steps) without being out of breathe and not having to stop you have fair level of aerobic ability. Actual measurement of V02 max outside of a clinical setting can be extremely risky, due to scope of practice issues, as well as the need for the emergency equipment required. In a health and fitness setting V02 max is typically estimated through sub-maximal field tests (see link below).

(To learn More about how to measure your aerobic fitness in greater detail go to aerobic fitness testing page).

RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion) chart can also help you understand fitness improvement.  It can also help you determine the appropriate exercise intensity easily and some consider it the best way.  

The scale uses a 1 to 10 rating system. One is very light, such as walking around the house while ten would be maximal exercise. Ten would be indicative of not being able to take another step without fear of collapse. It is not recommended for anyone to work at a rate of 10 without strict supervision by a healthcare provider. Moderate intensity is the level of exercise that is most recommended, and can be determined by a rating between a 3 and a 4. When doing vigorous activity (such as HIIT) you can go higher on the RPE chart.

So if you were walking outside and it felt like a 4 or a 5 and then after several weeks of exercising it feels like at 3 or a 4 that is a sign that you are fitter.

Another useful way to monitor intensity is the Talk Test.

If it is easy to talk then you are exercising moderately. When talking becomes somewhat difficult you have reached the ventilatory threshold (VT1) or a RPE of 5. When it becomes difficult to very difficult you have reached ventilatory threshold 2 (VT2). This range is considered the high portion of interval training. Fitness improvement: If you can talk easier at the same exercise intensity you have been doing that is a sign that you ar fitter.

Breathing can also be used to monitor intensity and fitness.

If it is comfortable to breathe then you are exercising moderately. When breathing becomes noticeable you have reached the ventilatory threshold (VT1) or RPE of 5. When it becomes deep and somewhat rapid you have reached ventilatory threshold 2 (VT2). Fitness improvement: If you can breathe easier at the same exercise intensity that you have been doing that is a sign that you ar fitter.

Using METS and WATTS -

Most Exercise Machines Display these Numbers - What do they mean?

A MET is a (metabolic equivalent) unit used to estimate the metabolic cost of physical activity and exercise intensity. Most exercise machines display MET values as well as WATTS a measure of power (see WATTS page). The value of 1 MET is approximately equal to a person’s resting energy expenditure. Most activities have MET values  (see METS charts). An activity like walking is considered to be 4 METS because it requires an energy expenditure 4 times greater than that required at rest. So if you tested yourself and you maxed out at 12 METS on an exercise machine for 3 or more minutes you have the VO2 Peak score of 42 ml/kg/min ( 1 MET=3.5 ml/kg/min so 12 METS = 42 ml/kg/min ). For a 43 year old male that is a good score, while for a female that is a great score (see VO2 max chart).(Only attempt VO2 Peak Testing if your are very healthy. I typically perform VO2 Peak testing on my healthy clients). (see link to learn how to measure VO2 Peak through METS).

Using Heart Rate Range

Heart rate is one of the most common used ways to judge intensity. The more fit you get the slower your heart rate will be at rest and when doing the same exercise you are accustomed to. Most exercise machines have built in heart rate monitors and give you ranges based on your age. Unfortunately the equations that are used to predict these ranges uses estimates of maximum heart rate that are widely inaccurate, including the old version 220-age as well as newer versions such as theTanaka: 208 - (0.7 x age) = MHR.  Therefore a better way to use heart rate is find the heart rate at a RPE of 4 to 5, where breathing is noticeable and it is somewhat difficult to speak. Use that heart rate as your upper limit of your training range and go 20-30 beats less as the lower portion.

What are the Current Activity and Aerobic Recommendations?

Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.

For substantial health benefits,

adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity exercise.

Another way to look at it is 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week.

Moderate-intensity exercise RPE of 3 Easy, talking is easy, breathing is comfortable and you are probably working at 55 % maximum of heart rate.


75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.

Another way to look at it is  

20 to 60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise three to 3-5 days per week.

Vigorous-intensity exercise RPE of 4/5 Somewhat Hard to Hard, talking is somewhat difficult to difficult, breathing is deepened and you are probably working at 70 % maximum of heart rate.


an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.

Ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) correlate fairly well with this three-zone model:

“moderate” to “somewhat hard” (RPE = 3–4, 0-to-10 scale) below VT1

“hard” (RPE = 5–6, 0-to-10 scale) between VT1 and VT2

“very hard” to “extremely hard” (RPE = 7–10, 0-to-10 scale) above VT2 VT3