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Benefits Of Aerobic Exercise And Guidelines To Ensure Your Workouts Are Really Aerobic

By Jasmine Greene

"Aerobics" was coined by Dr. Cooper, an exercise physiologist at the San Antonio Air Force Hospital. He was the first to develop a formula for a target heart rate. Although there have been more recent improvements on this original formula, Dr. Cooper's heart rate formula involved subtracting your age from 220 and exercising at a heart rate of 60-80% of that number. Although "aerobics" were originally designed to help astronauts, Dr. Cooper soon realized that this would be a beneficial type of exercise for everyone.

Since that time, the original formula has been improved, and studies have shown several benefits of regular aerobic exercise, such as:

*Weight loss and weight maintenance (aerobic exercise burns fat.)

*Increased long-term energy and stamina

*Improved mood

*Pain relief (by natural endorphin production)

*Stronger heart and better circulation (by keeping arteries clear and preventing heart disease)

*Improved blood sugar control and adrenal health

*Lower blood pressure

*Stronger bones and prevention of osteoporosis

*Stronger immune system

*Longer life expectancy

If you have been battling low energy, poor endurance, aches and pains, too much body fat, stress, or sugar and carb cravings, your body is probably not getting enough aerobic exercise!

The intensity and duration of exercise determine whether the muscles work aerobically or anaerobically. Aerobic exercise requires a very specific level of intensity for a minimum of thirty minutes. If the heart rate is too low or too high, the exercise becomes anaerobic instead.

During true aerobic exercise, the body burns fat for energy. This process requires oxygen, hence the term "aerobic." Aerobic exercise is useful for improving muscle endurance (allowing them to function for hours or days at a time without fatigue). This is especially important for those muscles that support posture, joints, and the arches of the feet. Therefore, if there is not sufficient aerobic exercise, the chances of joint problems, injuries, and low stamina increase.

In anaerobic exercise, the body burns sugar (glucose) for energy. No oxygen is required for this type of energy production. Burning sugar provides short term speed and power. Muscles cannot burn sugar for long, however, and so they fatigue quickly. Most people have no shortage of anaerobic exercise; even while seated, the body runs many tasks anaerobically, and virtually all sports are anaerobic due to their alternating bursts of high intensity (anaerobic) exercise and rest.

Internationally recognized researcher and author Dr. Phil Maffetone has greatly changed our understanding of aerobic exercise and endurance training. Dr. Maffetone studied many athletes pre- and post-workout for many indicators, including heart rate, gait, and muscle imbalance. He found that the athletes who used Dr. Cooper's original formula often over-trained and suffered from injuries, distortions in body mechanics and posture, pain, and joint problems. After much work, Dr. Maffetone developed a new and improved formula for calculating each individual's target heart rate for true aerobic exercise.

Follow these four simple steps to ensure you're training aerobically and enjoying all the benefits of aerobic exercise:

1. Invest in a heart rate monitor. It's just not a good idea to rely on the "feel" of a workout or to guess at whether your heart rate is too low or too high. There are many brands and models to choose from. Polar is an industry leader and is usually a safe bet. I recommend purchasing a model that has a chest strap as well as a wrist watch/display. If you work out in a gym rather than outdoors, invest in a model that is coded so that there is no electrical signal interference from other devices in the gym.

2. Calculate your maximum aerobic heart rate using Dr. Maffetone's formula. Simply subtract your age from 180. For example, a 32 year old who wants to exercise aerobically would have a maximum heart rate of 148 beats per minute. Modifiers and exceptions to this formula include:

*Subtract another 10 from the max heart rate if you're recovering from a major illness or surgery, or if you take any regular medications.

*Subtract another 5 from the max heart rate if: injured, have regressed in training or competition, suffer from more than two bouts of cold/flu per year, have allergies or asthma, just starting to train, or if you've been training inconsistently (Dr. Maffetone defined consistency as at least 4 times per week for 2 years).

*Add 5 to the max heart rate if: training consistently for more than 2 years without injuries or problems and have made progress in competition.

*Add 10 to the max heart rate if: over the age of 65.

*This formula does not apply to athletes 16 years old or younger. Best bet for these athletes is 165 as the max heart rate.

*If in doubt, choose the lower maximum heart rate.

3. Calculate your minimum aerobic heart rate by subtracting 10 from the maximum aerobic heart rate. So a healthy 33 year old would have a max heart rate of 147 and a minimum of 137.

4. Walk, jog, bike or swim while wearing your heart rate monitor. Stay within your aerobic heart rate zone for at least 30 minutes at a time, and do this at least three times per week. I don't advise exceeding 90 minutes without a doctor's supervision.

As you will soon discover, it's amazingly easy to exercise aerobically. It doesn't take much effort to elevate your heart rate to the target zone. This is good news for couch potatoes (Talk about exercising smarter, not harder!), but can be frustrating for athletes who don't want to slow down. However, athletes must train aerobically to protect their bodies. The silver lining for athletes is that, as your heart becomes more aerobically fit, you'll be able to pick up the pace without exceeding the maximum aerobic heart rate. With the aid of your heart rate monitor, you'll soon also discover that any activity other than running, walking, cycling or swimming (at a constant pace) is likely to be anaerobic.

As a chiropractor and acupuncturist, I've noticed substantial benefits for both myself and my patients who invest a little bit of time each week to exercise aerobically. The immediate and long-term benefits are well worth the effort!

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