Clinically, aerobic activity means:
- Continuous movement involving large muscles
- Of at least a few minutes duration
- At low to moderate intensity
- Using heart, lung, and muscles to move oxygenated blood through the body
These technical parts add up to breathing, with some effort, such as with moderate walking.
Aerobic activity in everyday life
There are many examples of aerobic activity, including walking, dancing, bicycling, and so on, that are part of what we do – or can do – in everyday life. And these are just a few examples. The list can include whatever movement of big muscles you are willing to do, and, preferably, find enjoyable.
You may love rowing and live near a river where you can get out often. Swimming may be your sport and a pool will be fine. Walking a dog only counts if the dog is active, not stopping to smell every blade of grass.
Children playing jump rope at recess, kids biking to a friend’s house – aerobic activities once were simply “having fun” on an average day. As we become adults, there are increased demands of “homework,” and then “work work” with increased periods of sitting. As we age, these years of sitting – or reduced activity – may require deliberate effort to bring aerobic activity back into our lives.
How much activity is needed for healthy living?
Many studies examined the relationship between aerobic activity and health and found strong evidence that more aerobic activity is linked to better health.
The key question for the experts was: How much aerobic activity does it take to get an acceptable level of health? In 2008, an expert panel considered all the evidence and concluded that:
- A minimum of 150 minutes each week, distributed approximately into five 30 minute walks, would be optimal.
- More recently, in 2018, a similar expert panel noted that several shorter efforts per day, adding up to 30 minutes, would be equally effective.
Before you skip to another page, overwhelmed with the idea of 150 minutes of anything, I want to tell you right now, as the expert panel said, there are health benefits to less time!
“People gain some health benefits even when they do as little as 60 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity.”
Can you do 5 or 10 minutes a day more than you do now? Don’t dismiss your efforts just because they are not yet in line with the recommendation. You will be better off for every bit you do. Learn more in this short video from NIH.
Unless you are in the subgroup of older adults who are already near or actually meeting this goal (congratulations if you are among this group!), these aerobic exercise recommendations could sound out-of-reach. There is another way to look at this!
Let’s rethink what you need to do. If you have been somewhat active, let’s take three steps to determine your personal lifesaver.
Step 1. Whatever you do that increases your breathing or heart rate, continuously for about 5 – 10 minutes or more… count it toward your week’s total. You must take credit for what you are doing that you may not have labeled as aerobic. Your work/leisure routines may include physical activity that qualifies. Do you “watch” your grandchildren or help with other childcare? If they are older than infancy, not sleeping, and keep you on your toes chasing them around, count that time! Do you walk or ride a bike to reach a destination? Count it! Do you meet your friends for water aerobics classes on Wednesdays? Count it! Determine your total by adding up the minutes from all of your current aerobic routines. Let’s say, hypothetically, they add up to 100.
Step 2. Subtract your total (100, from step 1.) from 150, The remainder is what you want to add to your weekly routine. Let’s say you need to add 50 minutes.
Step 3. Your personal lifesaver (150 – 100 = 50 in our example) becomes your new goal! In fact, it is a good idea to increase aerobic activity daily so I will call this goal: Add 10 minutes of aerobic activity 5x/week.
That is easy! It could be a walk down the street and back after dinner each evening. Or dancing alone in your living room to the radio music to begin each day. Or, whatever pleases you.
But if you are not active at all…
If you consider Step 1. above and determine that your aerobic activity level truly is close to zero, that is important to know. Congratulate yourself for doing the self-assessment.
It would not be wise to go from zero to sixty (or 150) without some careful planning.
The Guidelines (see References) suggest, “To reduce risk of injury, it is important to increase the amount of physical activity gradually over a period of weeks to months. For example, an inactive person could start with a walking program consisting of 5 minutes of slow walking several times a day, 5 to 6 times a week.” The length of time could then gradually be increased to 10 minutes per session, 3 times a day, and the walking speed could be increased slowly.”
There are some important questions to answer about what motivates the current level of inactivity – pain? fatigue? depression? fear? and how to move slowly and safely toward more activity. Seek advice from an expert who knows you, your doctor would be a good starting point.
You would go to the doctor (or emergency room) if you fell and broke your leg, or worse. This is the prevention version of caring for your health so you want to make an appointment to address inactivity, or falls risk.
You deserve special congratulations because starting from near zero is an enormous achievement and will add significantly to your health.