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USDA Exercise Guidelines

Types of Aerobic Activity

All physical activity will help you lose weight and improve your health. But to burn the most calories and get the most health benefits from your activity program, try to include the three basic types of physical activity -- aerobic exercise (also called cardiovascular conditioning), strength-building exercise, and stretching -- in your movement program.

Each type of activity burns calories yet provides its own unique health and weight-control benefits. Together, these three activities give your body the ability to carry out the activities of daily living throughout your life. Just carrying a bag of groceries up the front steps requires cardiovascular health, flexibility, strength, and endurance! So don't disregard the value of each type of activity.

Instead, figure out a way to add some of each to your routine. Your metabolism gets a little boost from physical activity for a brief period of time after you stop. Research on the matter is conflicting, and the duration and magnitude of any post-exercise increase in metabolism is dependent upon the intensity and duration of the exercise itself. The amount of calories burned after exercise during recovery is not much, especially following moderately intense activities. But every little bit helps tip that calorie-balance scale toward weight loss. In the next few sections, we will cover each of these types of physcial activity. Let's begin with an examination of aerobic activity.

Aerobic Activity

Aerobic activity is the kind that uses the large muscles in your arms and legs, getting your heart rate up and making you breathe harder. Aerobic exercises, such as walking, biking, and jogging, are good for your cardiovascular system because they strengthen your heart, lower your blood pressure, and improve your circulation. And there's no substitute for aerobic activity when it comes to calorie burning and fat burning.

Experts recommend that you work at a moderate level of intensity, at least when you first begin an aerobic exercise program. There are two ways to tell whether you're at the moderate level. The simplest is the "talk test." If you can still carry on a conversation and the activity feels somewhat hard, then you're probably working at the right pace. If it's too difficult to talk and you find yourself panting, slow down. That indicates you're pushing yourself too hard.

If you're breathing easy and can belt out a tune while you're working out, you need to pick up the pace a bit to burn fat. For a more precise measure of the intensity of your activity, check your heart rate by taking your pulse during your workout. For the most accurate count, take your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply by 6 to get your pulse-per-minute count. Your pulse rate begins to drop as soon as you stop to take it, so taking it for a full minute would not give you an accurate reading. For optimal results, you should be working within your target heart rate zone, which is 60 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate per minute.

The estimated maximum heart rate -- and the target heart rate zone -- are based on your age. Subtract your age from 220, and you'll get your estimated maximum heart rate. Multiply by 0.60 and 0.85 to find the upper and lower ends of your target zone. Or use the following chart:

Target Heart Rate
Use the following chart to find the upper and lower ends of your target hear rate.
 Age  Target Heart Rate
20 120-170
35 111-157

If your pulse is below your target heart rate, increase your rate of activity. If your pulse is above your target zone, decrease the intensity of your activity. One of the best and easiest aerobic activities you can do is walking. It's easy to fit into your day, and you can do it almost anywhere.

Whether you walk around your neighborhood at home, at work, or around the track at a nearby school, walking gets you moving without any fuss. All you need are some good sport shoes, loose clothing, and a water bottle. Increasing your pace and pumping your arms as you walk boosts the intensity and the amount of calories expended without putting in any additional time. If weather is inclement, have a backup plan, such as walking in an enclosed shopping mall. Many people fit aerobic activity into their mornings before work, during their lunch hour, and/or after dinner. It's up to you, and your plan can be flexible.

Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activity include but are not limited to:
  • Brisk walking

  • Bike riding

  • Dancing

  • Jogging

  • Hiking

  • Skiing

  • Skating

  • Swimming -- especially good if you have joint problems

  • Household chores

  • Yard work

  • Most sports
It's a good idea to stretch your muscles after you work out to allow the muscles to release and relax, as well as to improve flexibility. Spend a few minutes gently stretching your muscles as you finish your walk or cool down.

Now that we've covered aerobic activity, it's time to cover the other major kind of exercise. Strength training involves weight and resistance training. We'll explore both topics in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.