Aerobic fitness refers to exercise that improves the body’s cardiovascular condition. Aerobic literally translates as ‘with oxygen.’ During an aerobic fitness session, the increase of oxygen in the lungs provides more oxygen for the blood, which is transported to the heart muscle. Regular cardiovascular exercise improves aerobic fitness levels by training the body to sustain activity over longer periods of time. This improves the condition of the heart, lowers cholesterol levels and burns fat. The main components of improving aerobic fitness are well-structured workouts, proper heart rate monitoring and consistent routines that are appropriate in duration and intensity.
An aerobic workout should typically begin with a warm-up period of five to ten minutes. The warm-up gradually increases blood flow to the muscles, which makes them less prone to injury during the more intense periods of the workout. Fast-paced walking followed by a series of light hamstring and back stretches will protect muscles from injury and maximize the effectiveness of a cardiovascular workout.
After a proper warm-up, the body should be ready for the more intense cardiovascular portion of the workout. There are several forms of cardiovascular exercise that will improve aerobic fitness. Running, biking, swimming or skiing are common workouts that can be performed individually. Group exercises that improve aerobic condition include dancing, basketball, soccer and softball.
Cardiovascular exercises are more effective when alternated, rather than repeating the same exercises during every workout. For example, it would be ideal to designate a couple of days to running or biking and then alternate with activities such as dancing or soccer. Alternating workouts will prevent the body from adjusting to a particular set of exercises which hinders aerobic conditioning.
In order to track progress and maximize aerobic conditioning, monitoring the heart rate is essential. A heart rate monitor can help determine appropriate levels of exercise intensity during an aerobic workout. Monitors are digital devices that may be worn as a strap around the chest or on the wrist. During a workout, the heart rate should be kept at certain levels to ensure aerobic conditioning. Ideal heart rates vary according to age, weight and current fitness level. It may be a good idea to check with a physician or personal trainer to determine a target heart rate and how long that rate should be maintained.
After the heart rate has been sustained at a higher intensity level for 30 to 60 minutes, it is time to begin cooling down. Taking five to ten minutes to slow exercise at a gradual pace allows the body time to adjust and regulate the heart rate to a normal level. Lower intensity exercise should be followed by three or four minutes of stretching.
The most important factors to improving aerobic fitness are consistency, level of intensity and duration of workouts. Aerobic conditioning is most effective when performed three to five days per week. The level of intensity should be high enough to achieve the target heart rate, and the workouts should typically last at least 30 minutes, excluding the warm-up and cool down.