Your choice of workouts should largely depend on what your goals are. But regardless of your goals, all workout routines should incorporate at least one form of aerobic training to get you in the best shape possible.
Aerobic exercise, also known as cardiovascular exercise or simply cardio, is a type of exercise that raises your heart and breathing rates. In the long run, aerobic workouts improve the functioning of your heart, circulatory system, and lungs. It is central to increasing endurance and it provides a host of other health benefits.
If you're thinking about including aerobic exercise into your lifestyle or workout routine, try out these 7 best aerobic exercises that are easy to add to any lifestyle and get you motivated to become fit.
People often underestimate the impact walking can have on overall fitness. According to celebrity trainer David Kirsch, "…walking raises your heart rate and burns calories… But it’s also a great way to increase your mind-body connection, focus on your breath, spend time in nature, meditate, and de-stress."
If you're normally sedentary, simple walking can definitely count as a workout. Studies show that even 10 minutes of walking improves body composition in men and women who are otherwise sedentary [1, 2]. However, you'll gain the most benefits from 30 minutes of brisk walking, which can burn up to 200 calories and achieve a training heart rate (THR) of 80%.
If you work a desk job or are sedentary for other reasons, there are ways to incorporate more walking into your daily routine. Consider walking during a lunch break, park your car only once when running errands, and ask a spouse or close friend to go out for a walk in the afternoon. Another viable option is investing in a treadmill.
Swap your car for a bike for trips to the grocery store and even for commuting if possible. Otherwise, a stationary bike at home or the gym will do to help you gain the benefits of this aerobic workout. Cycling burns between 400 and 1,000 calories an hour according to Cycling Weekly, and it also strengthens the legs, hips, and glutes. A major benefit of cycling is that it's gentle on your back and joints. So, for those who are overweight or have arthritis, cycling is the perfect go-to aerobic workout.
If you plan to pursue cycling as your main aerobic workout, then you'll need a proper bike fit to avoid injuries to your joints. If you're cycling at the gym, ask the instructor to adjust the seat height properly as well as the position of the handlebars. And if you plan to spend a significant amount of time cycling, an anatomically-designed seat is a must.
- Running Stairs
When you're looking for a more challenging aerobic workout, then utilize stairs to push you to your limits. Walking and running up and down a flight of stairs can burn some serious calories according to a study published in PLoS One that found that single stair climbing burns around 500 calories per hour . You can double the number of calories burnt if you increase the intensity of this workout through running.
It's best and safest to do this type of workout on an outdoor staircase, preferably one that has more than one flight of stairs. Make sure to have a good pair of shock absorption, anti-slip sneakers if you plan on doing this. For exercising indoors, your own staircase will do. Just make sure you have good balance and that your stairs aren't slippery to avoid serious injury.
- Jumping Jacks
A common childhood favorite, jumping jacks is a fun way to get your heart pumping. One way to test whether you're doing an aerobic workout correctly is to see if you can talk while doing it. Being out of breath and not being able to speak is a good sign you're pushing your aerobic capacities to their limits and jumping jacks will easily get you there.
Another benefit of jumping jacks is that they can help prevent osteoporosis according to studies showing that jump workouts help improve bone mineral density [4, 5]. That's because jumping is a high-impact workout with the force of gravity involved, both proven to be best for bone health. Jumping jacks may also improve your stamina, endurance, and balance.
The burpee, also known as the squat thrust, is a full-body aerobic workout that doubles as a strength-training exercise. To perform burpees, you need to:
- Stand straight with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lean forward into a squat with your palms on the ground.
- Kick your feet back into a plank position and arms extended.
- Return into initial squat position.
- Stand up from the squat position.
However, there are many other variants of the burpee, some including high jumps, push-ups, dumbbells, and more. Which variant you should practice depends on your levels of fitness and endurance. Research shows that high-intensity exercises like burpees improve aerobic fitness and blood glucose levels . Be warned, however, that the burpee is one of the most lauded but also most hated exercises out there. These workouts will push your body and make you feel like you can only do a handful of them.
Swimming can be both an aerobic and anaerobic workout depending on how intense you perform it. For aerobic fitness, swimming at a slow to moderate pace at a long distance will do. On the other hand, anaerobic swimming typically involves sprinting for a short distance for less than a minute. Swimming at a moderate pace improves cardiovascular health according to a review published in the International Journal of Cardiology 
A major benefit of swimming compared to other workouts is that it is gentle on the joints and back. If you're overweight or obese and want to boost your aerobic fitness, then consider signing up for a swimming membership. The downside of swimming as a workout option is that the buoyancy of water doesn't do much for bone health, i.e. swimming is not a weight-bearing workout.
Being the kind of aerobic workouts, many people like to opt for running as a foolproof way to increase their overall fitness. However, not all running is aerobic. Only long-distance, marathon runs are aerobic, while sprint running is anaerobic. Including running into your regular workout routine provides a host of health benefits according to a large meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine .
The meta-analysis found that to improve weight, body composition, heart rate, and blood lipids in healthy adults. The longer the length of running, the greater these benefits were. Besides improving overall fitness, running is known to improve mood and help people sleep better according to Runner's World.
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- Swartz AM, Cho CC2, Welch WA. Pattern Analysis of Sedentary Behavior Change after a Walking Intervention. Am J Health Behav. 2018 May 1;42(3):90-101. - https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0210447
- Serwe KM, Swartz AM, Hart TL. Effectiveness of long and short bout walking on increasing physical activity in women. Journal of women’s health. 2011;20(2):247–53. pmid:21314449. - https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/jwh.2010.2019
- Halsey LG, Watkins DR, Duggan BM. The Energy Expenditure of Stair Climbing One Step and Two Steps at a Time: Estimations from Measures of Heart Rate. PLoS One. 2012; 7(12): e51213. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3520986/
- Okubo R, Sanada LS, Castania VA, et. al. Jumping exercise preserves bone mineral density and mechanical properties in osteopenic ovariectomized rats even following established osteopenia. Osteoporos Int. 2017 Apr;28(4):1461-1471. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28124728
- Vlachopoulos D, Barker AR, Ubago-Guisado E. The effect of a high-impact jumping intervention on bone mass, bone stiffness and fitness parameters in adolescent athletes. Arch Osteoporos. 2018; 13(1): 128. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6244891/
- Gillen JB, Martin BJ, MacInnis MJ. Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment. PLoS One. 2016 Apr 26;11(4):e0154075. -https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075
- Lazar JM, Khanna N, Chesler R. Swimming and the heart. International Journal of Cardiology. 2013 Sep 20;168(1):19-26. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23602872
- Hespanhol Junior LC, Pillay JD, van Mechelen W. Meta-Analyses of the Effects of Habitual Running on Indices of Health in Physically Inactive Adults. Sports Medicine. 2015 Oct;45(10):1455-68. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26178328