Aerobic exercise increases the health and function of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. For maximum effectiveness, aerobic exercise needs to be rhythmic, continuous and involve the large muscle groups. Walking, jogging, cycling, aerobic dance, stair climbing, elliptical trainer, swimming, cross-country skiing, and rowing are examples of activities considered aerobic exercise. To be aerobic you should continue the activity for a minimum of 30 minutes. Staying within your heart rate range is also important if the activity is to be considered aerobic. (see below for heart rate information)
To make physical improvements, you need to work your body harder than usual. This is referred to as the overload principle. As your body becomes more conditioned, you need to increase the frequency, intensity, or time of your workouts in order to continue improving your fitness level.
- Frequency How often you exercise. For beginners, consider starting with 2-3 sessions per week.
- Intensity How hard you exercise – for example, the pace you walk or run, or your heart rate count.
- Time How long you perform an activity.
Choosing an Exercise
The best exercise is an activity that you enjoy enough to pursue enthusiastically. Experiment with different forms of activity. Alternating new activities with old favorites will keep your enthusiasm high.
Determining Your Starting Point
To achieve cardiovascular benefits, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends exercising 3-5 times per week (frequency) with a training heart rate of 60-85% of your maximum (intensity) for 20-60 minutes (time).
Begin slowly and gradually build. “Too much, too soon” can lead to soreness, fatigue and/or injuries. Work at your own level, start out slow and gradually increase duration and level as intensity as your body progresses. Getting fit is not an orvernight proposition, it’s a lifestyle commitment. Don’t expect immediate dramatic changes in your body shape. Most external benefits won’t become visible for the first six weeks or so. Stay focused on your lifestyle choice and celebrate the internal benefits you’re experiencing such as increased energy, less stress and anxiety, higher self-esteem and an increased feeling of well-being.
Work on staying motivated
- Find a fitness partner.
- Start an exercise log or journal – this allows you to see the small successes as you chart your progress.
- Schedule your workouts – exercise must be a priority in order to establish it as a lifestyle practice..
- Toss your scale – don’t make your exercise revolve around a number on a scale. Exercise should be about making a commitment to your health and well being.
- Dress the part – wear comfortable clothes appropriate for exercising to help you feel like working out.
- Entertain yourself – if you exercise alone, consider using an ipod or mp3 player to listen to your favorite music or books on tape to help keep you entertained during your workout.
- Evaluate your progress – it’s a good idea to test your fitness level when you start and re-evaluate yourself every couple of months.
- Make exercise non-negotiable – think of exercise as something you do without question, like brushing your teeth or going to work. Taking the lifestyle perspective will help you make exercise a habit.
Understanding Your Training Heart Rate
Your training heart rate zone is a critical element in exercise. Taking your pulse and figuring your heart rate during a workout is one of the primary indicators in ascertaining the intensity level at which you and your heart is working. There are many ways to measure exercise intensity. The Karvonen Formula is one of most effective methods used to determine your heart rate. The Ratings of Perceived Exertion and Talk Test methods are subjective measurements that can be used in addition to taking a pulse.
The Karvonen Formula
This is a heart rate reserve formula and it’s one of the most effective methods used to calculate training heart rate. The formula factors in your resting heart rate, therefore, you’ll need to determine your resting heart rate by doing the following:
- Prior to getting out of bed in the morning, take your pulse on your wrist (radial pulse) or on the side of your neck (carotid pulse).
- Count the number of beats, starting with zero, for one minute. If you don’t have a stop watch or a second hand in your bedroom, you can measure the time by watching for the number to change on a digital alarm clock. Find your pulse and start counting when the minute number changes the first time, stop counting when it changes again.
- To help assure accuracy, take your resting heart rate three mornings in a row and average the 3 heart rates together.
Another element in finding your training heart rate zone is determining the intensity level at which you should exercise. As a general rule, you should exercise at an intensity between 50% - 85% of your heart rate reserve. Your individual level of fitness will ultimately determine where you fall within this range. Use the following table as a guide for determining your intensity level:
Beginner or low fitness level . . .50% - 60%
Average fitness level . . . . . . . . 60% - 70%
High fitness level . . . . . . . . . . . 75% - 85%
Now that we’ve determined and gathered the information needed, we can pull the information together in the Karvonen Formula:
220 - Age = Maximum Heart Rate
Max Heart Rate - Rest. Heart Rate x Intensity + Rest. Heart Rate = Training Heart Rate
Sally's Minimum Training Heart Rate:
220 - 33 (Age) = 187
187 - 75 (Rest. HR) = 112
112 x .50 (Min. Intensity) + 75 (Rest. HR) = 131 Beats/Minute
Sally's Maximum Training Heart Rate:
220 - 33 (Age) = 187
187 - 75 (Rest. HR) = 112
112 x .60 (Max. Intensity) + 75 (Rest. HR) = 142 Beats/Minute
Periodically, take your pulse during your exercise session to gauge your intensity level. Typically, the easiest location for taking a pulse is on the side of your neck, the carotid pulse. Be sure not to press too hard on the carotid artery or you’ll get an inaccurate reading. Count the number of beats, always beginning with zero, for 6 seconds (then multiply by 10), or for 10 seconds (then multiply by 6) to get the number of times your heart is beating per minute. If your pulse is within your training heart rate zone, you’re right on track! If not, adjust your exercise workload until you get into your zone.
Ratings of Perceived Exertion (Borg Scale)
Another method that can be used in conjunction with taking your pulse is the Ratings of Perceived Exertion (RPE). This is a subjective method that allows you to rate how hard you feel you’re working. RPE can be the primary means of measuring exercise intensity if you do not have typical heart rate responses to graded exercise. These people include those on beta blocking medications, some cardiac and diabetic patients, pregnant women, and others who may have an altered heart rate response.
On a scale of 0 - 10, rate how you’re feeling in terms of exercise fatigue, including how you feel both physically and mentally. You should be exercising between an RPE of 4 (somewhat strong) and an RPE of 5 or 6 (strong). Use the following table to determine the intensity level:
0 . . . . .Nothing at all
0.5 . . . Very, very weak
1 . . . . .Very weak
2 . . . . .Weak
3 . . . . .Moderate
4 . . . . .Somewhat strong
5 . . . . .Strong
7 . . . . .Very strong
10 . . . .Very, very strong (Maximal)
The Talk-Test Method
Like the RPE, the talk test method is subjective and should be used in conjunction with taking a pulse. The talk test is quite useful in determining your comfort zone of aerobic intensity, especially if you are just beginning an exercise program. If you are able to talk during your workout without a great deal of strain, you’re most likely in your comfort zone. Work at an intensity that allows you to breathe comfortably and rhythmically throughout all phases of your workout. This will ensure a safe and comfortable level of exercise.
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