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The Health Benefits of Aerobic Physical Activity

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The Health Benefits of Aerobic Physical Activity

Aerobic physical activity or aerobic exercise is considered to be the single most important component of any fitness program.  Study after study has shown that people who do regular continuous exercise are happier, healthier and have increased vitality.

Aerobic physical activity is defined as the ability of the body’s cardiovascular and muscular systems to provide the necessary energy to sustain activity that uses the large muscles over a period of time.  A strong cardiovascular system means more capillaries delivering more oxygen to the cells in your muscles enabling them to burn more body fat both during and after exercise.


6 Health Benefits of Aerobic Physical Activity  
Control Body Fat Improve or maintain body weight
Stronger Heart Protection against heart illnesses
Improve Sleep Foundation for optimal health
Bone Health Increase Bone Density
Strong Immune System Boosts your ability to fend off infections
Psychological Benefits Improves well-being, memory and reduces anxiety & depression

Table 1


The Human Body is Designed to Move

Since the dawn of time, the human body is designed to move. To keep our bodies and brains working at optimal levels we need to engage our muscles at sufficient levels in order to produce a host of chemical reactions in the body leading to enhanced well-being – emotionally, mentally and physically. The body and mind are interconnected. Good health requires optimal levels of physical activity and plays a major role in our wellbeing.


Engage our Endurance Metabolism

“Today, of course, there’s no need to forage and hunt to survive. Yet our genes are coded for this activity, and our brains are meant to direct it. Take that activity away, and you’re disrupting a delicate biological balance that has been fine-tuned over half a million years. Quite simply, we need to engage our endurance metabolism to keep our bodies and brains in optimum condition. The ancient rhythms of activity ingrained in our DNA translate roughly to the varied intensity of walking, jogging, running, and sprinting. In broad strokes, then, I think the best advice is to follow our ancestors’ routine: walk or jog every day, run a couple of times a week, and then go for the kill every now and then by sprinting.”

John J. Ratey, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain


Regardless of your age, weight or athletic ability, aerobic physical activity is good for you.  As your body adapts to regular aerobic physical activity, you’ll get stronger and feel better. Listed below are Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines.


Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines

For Adults 18-64 years:

To achieve health benefits, adults aged 18-64 years should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.


For Older Adults – 65 years & older:

To achieve health benefits, and improve functional abilities, adults aged 65 years and older should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.


Moderate-intensity physical activities will cause adults to sweat a little and to breather harder.

Vigorous-intensity physical activities will cause adults to sweat and be ‘out of breath’.


For more information, go to Canada’s Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living: http://www.physicalactivityplan.org/resources/CPAG.pdf


Four Levels of Aerobic Physical Activity

The Advisory Committee for the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) report provides the basis for dividing the amount of aerobic physical activity an adult gets every week into four categories: inactive, low, medium, and high (see table below). This classification is useful because these categories provide a rule of thumb of how total amount of physical activity is related to health benefits. Low amounts of activity provide some benefits; medium amounts provide substantial benefits, and high amounts provide even greater benefits.


Classification of Total Weekly Amounts of Aerobic Physical Activity into Four Categories


Levels of Physical


Range of Moderate-Intensity Minutes a Week Summary of Overall Health Benefits Comment



No activity beyond baseline





Being inactive is unhealthy.




Activity beyond baseline but fewer than 150 minutes  week




Low levels of activity are clearly preferable to an inactive lifestyle.





150 minutes to 300 minutes




Activity at the high end of this range has additional and more extensive health benefits than activity at the low end.





More than 300 minutes a week




Current science does not allow researchers to identify an upper limit of activity above which there are no additional health benefits.


Table 2.1


Examples of Different Aerobic Physical Activities and Intensities

Moderate Intensity

–  Walking briskly (3 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking)

–  Water aerobics

–  Bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour

–  Tennis (doubles)

–  Ballroom dancing

–  General gardening


Vigorous Intensity

–  Race walking, jogging, or running

–  Swimming laps

–  Tennis (singles)

–  Aerobic dancing

–  Bicycling 10 miles per hour or faster

–  Jumping rope

–  Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing, with heart rate increases)

–  Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack


Table 2.2

Note: This table provides several examples of activities classified as moderate-intensity or vigorous-intensity, based on absolute intensity. This list is not all-inclusive. Instead, the examples are meant to help people make choices. Tables 2.1 and 2.2 sources:  the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP): https://health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/chapter4.aspx


Bring Mindfulness to Your Exercise Experience

You’ll reap amazing benefits when you bring mindfulness to your physical activities e.g.: mental clarity, acceptance, and improved concentration. When exercising, try to pay attention to your body. Really focus on how your body feels as you exercise – the rhythm of your breathing, the way your feet strike the ground and how you move your arms and legs. By bringing your awareness to your body you automatically interrupt your mind’s auto-pilot flow of thoughts and/or worries resulting in decreased stress and anxiety. Walking, running, swimming, dancing, and hiking are all great choices for practicing mindfulness.


Christine Zarichuck

Fitness Instructor and

Health & Wellness Coach/Consultant