What is aerobic exercise?

Ashley R. Bateman, MD
Family Medicine
Aerobic exercise is exercise that gets the heart rate up. Aerobic exercise includes any activity that makes the heart beat faster and harder while the person is sitting, standing or lying down. If a person starts sweating, and his or her heart rate is in exercise mode and beating a little bit faster, this is aerobic exercise. This is heart-healthy exercise.
Aerobic activity is any rhythmic activity that "revs you up" and gets your heart pumping a little faster and a little stronger. Aerobic activity builds your endurance, strengthens your heart, and increases your lung capacity. It releases brain chemicals called endorphins, which boost your mood. And best of all for weight control -- it does all of this while burning a lot of calories! There's simply no better way to help ensure good balance between food intake and energy output.

Aerobic exercise is any activity -- walking, running, swimming -- that requires sustained movement of the large muscles of your body, such as the thighs, butt, back, and chest, for at least 10 minutes. These activities challenge your heart and lungs and keep them healthy. With regular participation, you will be able to sustain longer periods of activity without getting tired.

Francis X. Downey, MD
Thoracic Surgery (Cardiothoracic Vascular)

To stay motivated to exercise:

  • Make it fun. Include activities that you enjoy.
  • Mix it up. Vary your activities. For example, two walking sessions combined with two swimming sessions may keep you from becoming bored with exercise.
  • Make it a family affair. Invite family or friends to exercise with you and to add some fun to your routine. You can help keep each other on track.

Activities that use large muscle groups in the legs or arms and are done at a steady pace for 10 minutes or longer are called aerobic activities. Brisk walking, hiking, cycling, swimming, jogging, rowing, cross country skiing, and aerobic dance are some examples of aerobic exercise.

Any exercise that raises your heart rate is good exercise. If you are looking for something in specific then trying choosing from the list below:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Running
  • Sprinting
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Playing a sport
  • Jumping Rope
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Step Aerobics
  • Kickboxing

Again, much of this will depend on your goals but all will surely be great aerobic exercises!

Bob Greene
Bob Greene on behalf of The Best Life
Aerobic exercise is also called "cardio" because your heart and lungs are working harder than usual to deliver enough oxygen to fuel the workout. The more intensely you exercise the more of a workout your heart and lungs get. Aerobic exercise, which is defined as any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously, is rhythmic in nature, and elevates your heart rate and breathing.
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Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

Aerobic exercise refers to the process the body creates energy or ATP in order to participate in the activity at hand.


Just at there is aerobic exercise, there is anaerobic exercise.  The difference is anaerobic exercise is much more intense and the metabolic pathway the body uses in order to create ATP is different.

An aerobic or conditioning activity is any exercise that increases the heart rate and keeps it higher for a certain period of time. This type of exercise helps your heart and muscles use oxygen more efficiently, and muscles that frequently receive oxygen-rich blood stay healthier. But remember to always start slowly and gradually increase!
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.