Designing Your Exercise Program: Aerobic and Its Benefits

Designing Your Exercise Program: Aerobic and Its Benefits


In order to maximize the amount of fat you burn from your body and to make sure that it stays off, you must include both aerobic and strength work in your exercise program.

As you start to exercise more regularly, you will see your shape changing and you will also have more energy. How quickly you start to see and feel these benefits will depend on several factors. For one, it will depend upon how hard you work. The improvements will occur in direct proportion to the level of overload (challenge) that you place on your body’s systems. Complete beginners will achieve benefits from almost any level of exercise even a gentle walk may be enough to cause the body to change. It will also depend on how often you exercise. You will need to commit yourself to regular times during the week; the more you do, the quicker you will improve within reason. Finally it will depend on how long you spend exercising. If you want an aerobic workout, you should allow 30 minutes or more as you will need to warm up, stretch and cool down. The toning exercises, however, can be done in 15 minutes or less.

We can put these three factors into practice by using a FIT checklist:

  • Frequency = how often?
  • Intensity = how hard?
  • Time = how long?

At the end of each week, you must check your FIT list to make sure that you have achieved your goals. Fill in the chart as you design your own exercise regimen, so that you set aside time in advance to exercise. If you wait for a spare half an hour to come along, it never will you have to make time!

Aerobic                          Toning                          Combination

Frequency:         Monday and Thursday        Wednesday and Friday             Saturday

Intensity:                            65%                                65%                                    75%

Time:                          30 minutes                      15 minutes                           60 minutes

By using the chart, you can schedule your exercise sessions and see in advance exactly what commitment you need to give to your program. It is vital that you write it down. If something is in your head, it is a dream, a wish or a hope; once it is written down, it becomes a commitment toward achieving your goal. Get your diary out now and schedule your workouts for this week. Make sure you do this at the start of every week.

The Aerobic Workout

In order to work aerobically, your heart needs to be pumping blood and oxygen through your body at the same rate as they are being used. In simple terms, this means that you should be slightly breathless but not gasping. It is impossible to set a level of exercise that is going to be the same for everyone, so you will need to estimate how hard you are working. As mentioned previously, this can be done by taking your age and working out your maximum training heart rate by deducting your age from 220. An easier method is to use a perceived rate of exertion (PRE) scale, which gives you guidelines as to how you should be feeling. I have devised a simplified version of the PRE scale, which is much easier to follow:

Level: 1 No effort
Level 2: Slight effort
Level 3: Effort required
Level 4: Rate of breathing starts to increase
Level 5: Slightly breathless; starting to perspire
Level 6: Breathless but comfortable; perspiring freely
Level 7: More breathless; still able to speak short sentences
Level 8: More breathless; able to speak only a few words
Level 9: Very breathless; unable to speak; feeling tired
Level 10: Very breathless; heavy legs; unable to continue

You should always begin with a warming-up period before you start the activity itself. This should include smaller movements using the same muscles that are going to be challenged when you are working out. For example, walking is a good warm-up exercise if you are going to power walk or jog. You should also include stretches for the leg muscles, as shown on pages 9295. By the end of the warm-up, you should be feeling about level 4; you are now ready to begin your aerobic workout, and you should time it from this point. As you start to work a little harder, you should reach approximately level 6 or 7. This will ensure that you are well within your aerobic training zone and that you are burning fat. You should continue to exercise at this level for as long as is comfortable.

The Benefits

The center of aerobic exercise is the heart, but it also involves many other important organs and systems. Any system of the body that is challenged will start to improve in efficiency. Aerobic exercise will, therefore, improve the efficiency of the heart, the respiratory system and the muscles used, as well as increase metabolism. When aerobic fitness improves, there is a real sense of well-being and an enhancement of mental health.

The heart is a muscle, and like any other muscle, it can grow stronger and, therefore, do more work with less effort. Imagine a weightlifter picking up a heavy weight and lifting it several times. Compare that with someone who doesn’t exercise and who probably is unable to pick up a heavy weight at all. The weightlifter has stronger muscles, and we can train our hearts in the same way. The way in which we train aerobically differs from the way we strengthen other muscles in our bodies. We do not want to be able to occasionally do something really strenuous with our hearts for a short period of time; we want our hearts to get stronger so that they can beat more easily at a faster rate for a longer period. This form of training is called endurance training.

One of the ways in which the heart adapts to endurance training is that it increases slightly in size, which means it can pump more blood with every heartbeat this is called stroke volume. Imagine two sponges: one small face sponge and one large bath sponge. If you had a leak or a puddle of water in a cupboard and used the two sponges to soak it up, you would, of course, see a marked difference between the efficiency of the two. The small sponge would fill up quickly, and when you squeezed it out, not much water would pass through it.

You would be soaking and wringing it out very quickly to try to get rid of the water. On the other hand, if you used the big sponge, it would soak up more water, and when you squeezed it out, you would be able to pass a lot more water through it. The overall rate would be slower, however, because it would take more time to fill up and to empty. In other words, it would be pumping more slowly, but it would clean the water up more quickly and with less effort. It is logical to calculate that the small sponge will wear out very quickly due to overuse, while the life span of the big sponge will be much longer. As your heart increases in size and stroke volume, it will be doing more work with less effort. All your muscles will receive a healthy supply of oxygen and you will feel fitter.

Circulation is the process by which the blood is delivered to the muscles and into the cells, using a network of blood vessels. These blood vessels get gradually smaller and smaller until they become tiny capillaries. At this point, the oxygen literally hops off into the cells and carbon dioxide a waste product of aerobic energy production hops on and is carried, via the heart, back to the lungs, where it can be expelled when we breathe out. As we improve the efficiency of our hearts, we also improve the efficiency of our capillary networks. This means that there are more capillaries passing oxygen into the cells. With all this going on, it is hardly surprising that we start to feel more energetic.

There is no doubt that aerobic exercise is one of the best ways to strengthen your heart and to reduce the risk of heart disease and many other associated diseases. The good news is that anyone can do it. Aerobic exercise adds years to your life and life to your years.