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Aerobic exercise - principles and a simple guide



Now we are getting to every weight loser's favorite "magic weapon" - aerobic exercise. Unfortunately, it is misunderstood and misused, even to a harmful degree. There is a chance that even you have hindered your metabolism with hundreds of hours of aerobic exercise. But we will get to that in a minute. Aerobic exercise, when used correctly, is a great tool indeed. 

Benefits of aerobic exercise:

  • It burns a moderate amount of calories compared to NEAT.
  • It improves one's oxygen uptake - tissue's ability to use oxygen and thus create more energy. 
  • It lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, type 2 diabetes, mental illnesses, and many more.
  • It can be incorporated into a hobby and be quite enjoyable (it doesn't have to feel like you are WORKING out). 

What about the disadvantages?  

  • As mentioned before - aerobic exercise doesn't burn nearly as many calories as people think. It can't make you magically thin, and you can't use it to compensate for poor nutrition or slowed metabolism.
  • When done too much, aerobic exercise starts to lower your muscle mass and metabolism. The same reason you have never seen a muscled marathon runner. Our body tries to preserve energy. That itself makes losing weight and keeping it off so much more tedious.

We won't go into too much detail, but let's give you some quick tools to be more successful in your efforts. 

Learn to take your pulse or use a heart rate monitor. 

Why is this important? So you can more efficiently plan and regulate your workout. You see, different intensities have different effects on your metabolism. The best way to measure those is by heart rate. First off, we need to calculate your maximum heart rate, which is done with the formula: take the number 220 and subtract your age. This number is 100% of your heart rate maximum - as high as it can go (estimation obviously). To break down different zones, we need to calculate different percentages of your maximum heart rate. Those percentages are 50%, 60%, 70%, and 85%. You will multiply your heart rate max with 0.5; 0.6; 0.7, and 0.85. For example, a 32-year-old man has his heart rate max is 220 - 32 = 188. His heart rate zones by the above percentages are:

  • 50% - 94 beats per minute.
  • 60% - 113 beats per minute.
  • 70% - 132 beats per minute. 
  • 85% - 160 beats per minute. 

Now that we know those heart rate percentages, we can look at target heart rate zones. 

  • Up to 50% - NEAT - no extra benefit.
  • 50-60% - light aerobic, a good place to start for an out of shape person. It builds a good overall foundation for your aerobic capacity. If you are just starting out, you should stay in this zone for at least a month.
  • 60-70% - the basic aerobic zone. This zone is your bread and butter of aerobic training. Most of your aerobic exercise will focus on this zone for at least a couple of months.
  • 70-85% - high intensity aerobic zone. This zone has its own chapter coming up.
  • 85% and above - we're hitting anaerobic zone, which we will go over in the HIIT chapter. 

But how much aerobic exercise should you do? It depends on many things. If you are a beginner, or out of shape, you should start slowly: 1-3 hours a week. When you get into better shape, the first thing you should do is gradually raise the intensity and move to the next zone. You don't have to, though - you can keep it lighter and add time, but then you won't get much of a metabolic benefit.  When you are in the 60-70% heart rate max range, you can add time up to 1 hour per day. You shouldn't go over the 1-hour mark because it starts to hinder your metabolic advancement. It would be advisable to transition partly into the high-intensity zone and keep the workout shorter. But that's up to you. You'll find out why in the next chapter. One often asked question is - what kind of aerobic exercise is the right one? 

The answer is always the same - the one you enjoy the most and are willing to do regularly. The list is long. If you don't know your favorite one yet - test out different options. 

  • Speed walking
  • Jogging
  • Skiing
  • Bicycling
  • Swimming
  • Aerobics
  • Treadmills and other aerobic equipment
  • Team sports like football or basketball
  • Hiking
  • Rowing
  • Boxing
  • Jump rope
  • Water aerobics

So there are the core principles of aerobic training. It is a useful tool, but don't overdo it, because it might backfire. But also don't ignore it. It is an important stepping stone to higher intensity training that should be the goal.

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