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In physical exercise, aerobic exercise is complementary to anaerobic exercise. Aerobic literally means "with oxygen", and refers to the use of oxygen in muscles'
energy-generating process. Aerobic exercise includes any type of
exercise, typically those performed at moderate levels of intensity for
extended periods of time, that maintains an increased heart rate. In
such exercise, oxygen is used to "burn" fats and glucose in order to
produce adenosine triphosphate, the basic energy carrier for all cells. Initially during aerobic exercise, glycogen is broken down to produce glucose, but in its absence, fat starts to decompose instead. This latter is a slow process, and is accompanied by a decline in performance level. The switch to fat as fuel is a major cause of what marathon
runners call "hitting the wall." Paradoxically, if one wants to lose
fat, the most efficient way to do this (according to some scientists),
is by executing prolonged exercises when feeling weak and hungry.

Anaerobic exercise,
in contrast, refers to the initial phase of exercise, or any short
burst of intense exertion, where the glycogen or sugar is consumed
without oxygen, and is a far less efficient process. Operating
anaerobically, an untrained 400 meter sprinter may "hit the wall" after
only 300 meters.

There are various types of aerobic exercise. In general, aerobic
exercise is one performed at a moderately high level of intensity over
a long period of time. For example, running a long distance at a moderate pace is an aerobic exercise, but sprinting
is not. Playing singles tennis, with near-continuous motion is
generally considered aerobic activity, while golf or doubles tennis,
with their more frequent breaks, may not be.





Health Benefits

Aerobic exercise confers many health benefits. Burning calories effectively and increasing the basal metabolic rate, accomplished by regular aerobic exercise, both aid in weight loss.
Although the benefits of exercise per se have long been apparent,
aerobic exercise programs specifically were first promoted by Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, in the 1960s,
as a type of training designed to strengthen the heart and lungs. When
test subjects participated in regular, vigorous aerobic exercise, they
gained a number of health benefits, which he collectively called the
aerobic 'Training Effect'. These benefits include:

  • Strengthening the muscles involved in respiration, to facilitate the flow of air in and out of the lungs;

  • Strengthening the heart muscle, to improve its pumping efficiency and reduce the resting heart rate;

  • Toning muscles throughout the body, which can improve overall circulation and reduce blood pressure;

  • Increasing the total number of red blood cells in the body, to facilitate transport of oxygen throughout the body.

Regular, vigorous aerobic activity can, as a result, reduce the risk
of death due to cardiovascular problems. In addition, high-impact
aerobic activities (such as jogging or jumping rope) can stimulate bone
growth, as well as reducing the risk of osteoporosis for both women and men.

Aerobic exercise versus 'aerobics'

is a particular form of aerobic exercise. Aerobics classes generally
involve rapid stepping patterns, performed to music with cues provided
by an instructor. This type of aerobic activity became quite popular
after the 1970 publication of Dr. Cooper's book The New Aerobics, and went through a brief period of intense popularity in the 1980s, when many celebrities (such as Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons)
produced videos or created television shows promoting this type of
aerobic exercise. Group exercise aerobics can be divided into two major
types: Freestyle Aerobics and Pre-choreographed Aerobics.

Aerobic capacity

Aerobic capacity describes the functional status of the
cardiorespiratory system, including, for example, the heart, lungs or
blood vessels. Aerobic capacity is defined as the maximum volume of
oxygen which can be consumed by ones muscles during exercise. It is a
function both of ones cardiorespiratory performance and of the ability
of the muscles to extract the oxygen and fuel delivered to them. To
measure maximal aerobic capacity, an exercise physiologist or physician
typically directs a subject to exercise on a treadmill, first by
walking at an easy pace and then, at set time intervals during graded
exercise tests, gradually increasing the workload. The higher a
cardiorespiratory endurance level, the more oxygen transported to
exercising muscles and the longer exercise can be maintained without
exhaustion. The higher aerobic capacity, the higher the level of
aerobic fitness.



Both the term and the exercise method, was developed by Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., an exercise physiologist of the U.S. Air Force.
Dr. Cooper, an avowed exercise enthusiast, was personally and
professionally puzzled about why some people with excellent muscular
strength were still prone to poor performance at tasks such as
long-distance running, swimming, and bicycling. He began measuring
systematic human performance using a bicycle ergometer, and began measuring sustained performance in terms of the ability to utilize oxygen.

His groundbreaking book, Aerobics, was published in 1969, and
included scientific exercise programs using running, walking, swimming
and bicycling. The book came at a fortuitous historical moment, when
increasing weakness and inactivity in the general population was
causing a perceived need for increased exercise. It became a

Cooper's scientific data provided the scientific baseline for almost
all modern aerobics programs, most of which are based on
oxygen-consumption equivalency.


When generalized fitness is a professional operational requirement,
as for athletes, combat services, police and fire personnel, aerobic
exercise alone may not provide a well-balanced exercise program. In
particular, muscular strength, especially upper-body muscular strength,
is usually neglected. Also, the metabolic pathways involved in
anaerobic metabolism, glycolysis and lactic acid fermentation,
are not exercised at peak rates, and these are important for peak
performance of many tasks. Aerobics is, however, an extremely valuable
component of a balanced exercise programme.

Some persons suffer repetitive stress injuries with some forms of
aerobics and then must choose less-injurious, "low impact" forms.

Aerobics notably does not increase the resting metabolic rate as
much as some forms of weight-training, and may therefore be less
effective at reducing obesity. However, this form of exercise also
allows for longer, more frequent activity and consumes more energy when
the individual is active.

Commercial success

Aerobic exercise has long been a popular form of weight loss and physical fitness, often taking a commercial form.

  • Tennis and jogging gained prominence and popularity in the 1970s

  • Judi Sheppard Missett largely helped create the market for commercial aerobics with her Jazzercise program in the 1970s

  • Richard Simmons hosted an aerobic exercise show on television, beginning in the 1980s

  • Billy Blanks's Tae Bo helped popularize cardio-boxing, workouts that used martial arts movements in the 1990s

  • The Nia Technique, also called Neuromuscular Integrative Action,
    was developed in the 1980s as a form of "non-impact" aerobics (the
    original words in the acronym). In the 1980s, impact injuries and "no
    pain no gain" attitudes came to dominate traditional aerobics classes.
    By contrast, the Nia Technique is based on "the body's way" -- moving
    with ease and pleasure, to follow a personal journey to not only
    physical but also mental, emotional, and spiritual fitness.


  • Cooper, Kenneth, Aerobics, 1969

  • Donatelle, Rebecca J. Health: The Basics. 6th ed. San Francisco: Pearson Education, Inc. 2005.

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