Aerobic activity, how much do you need?

Aerobic exercises run the gamut from gentle low impact movements like walking or biking to high intensity compound movements like playing basketball or tennis.  The recommended amount changes according to what type of activity you are doing for aerobic fitness, the more intense the exercise, the less time you have to spend doing it.  But how much is enough? 

First, let’s look at the different intensities of exercise:

Moderate intensity is generally defined as aerobic exercise that raises your heart rate to between 50-70% of your heart rate max (220-your age).  For a 40 year old, this would be exercises that get your heart rate between 90-125 bpm roughly.  

Another way to define moderate intensity exercise is by the amount of oxygen required to do that particular exercise (METs). The METs for moderate intensity exercise are between 3-5.9.

Here are some examples that fit into this range

  • Walking very brisk (4 mph)

  • Cleaning heavy (washing windows, vacuuming, mopping)

  • Mowing lawn (power mower)

  • Bicycling light effort (10-12 mph)

  • Badminton recreational

  • Tennis doubles

Vigorous activity is then categorized as any activity that increases your heart rate to above 70% of your heart rate max (220-your age).  For the same 40 year old, this would mean a heart rate above 126 beats per minute. The METs for vigorous activity are 6 and above. Here are some examples that fit into this range:

  • Hiking

  • Jogging at 6 mph

  • Shoveling

  • Carrying heavy loads

  • Bicycling fast (14-16 mph)

  • Basketball game

  • Soccer game

  • Tennis singles

  • Most Kettlebell exercises (swings, cleans, snatches and combo lifts)

When looking at how much you need, the general recommendations are that you accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate (5 bouts of 30 minutes per week) or 75 minutes of vigorous (3 bouts of 25 minutes per week).  But this is the equivalent of being ok with getting a C- on a test. The most important thing to remember about aerobic exercise is that there is a dose-response relationship. This means that the more you get, the more benefits to your overall health, and I’m not talking about weight loss (even though it might be your primary focus).  The research is out and it’s compelling. Aim for 300 or more min of moderate intensity exercise (an hour 5x/week or 45 min daily) or 150 or more minutes of high intensity exercise (30 minutes 5x/week) or some combination of each you want to maximize your health and significantly reduce your risk of:

  • Early death

  • CHD

  • Stroke

  • High blood pressure

  • Adverse blood lipids

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Metabolic syndrome

  • Weight gain

  • Falling

  • Depression

  • Cognitive decline

  • Breast cancer

  • Colon Cancer

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