Aerobic exercise reduces the risk of many health conditions, ranging from heart disease to dementia. Although all forms of physical activity provide some benefits, aerobic exercise is particularly effective because it causes the heart and lungs to work harder than usual.
National physical activity guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week.
Some examples of aerobic exercise include:
- aerobics classes
In this article, we discuss some of the benefits that aerobic exercise offers the body and brain.
Benefits for the body
Aerobic exercise benefits the body in many different ways. These include:
1. Preventing heart disease
Aerobic exercise is essential for keeping the heart, lungs, and blood vessels healthy. Regular aerobic exercise can help prevent heart disease and reduce the risk of death from this condition.
2. Maintaining a healthy weight
People wishing to lose weight will need to ensure that they burn more calories than they consume, resulting in a caloric deficit.
Aerobic exercise causes the body to burn calories for energy. It is a great way to push the body into a caloric deficit, leading to weight loss. However, to reach a caloric deficit, most people will also need to reduce the number of calories that they consume.
3. Controlling blood sugar levels
Keeping blood sugar levels under control is important for reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. It is essential for people with diabetes to keep their blood sugar levels within a healthy range. High blood sugar can damage blood vessels and lead to heart disease.
Insulin is necessary for regulating blood sugar. Aerobic exercise can increase insulin sensitivity so that the body requires less insulin to control blood sugar levels.
During exercise, the muscles also use glucose from the blood. In this way, exercise helps prevent blood sugar levels from rising too high.
4. Lowering blood pressure
High blood pressure puts stress on the blood vessels and heart. Over time, this can have serious consequences, such as increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Aerobic exercise can help keep blood pressure within a healthy range. A review of 391 trials in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that exercise is as effective as blood pressure medications in reducing high blood pressure.
5. Preventing and managing stroke
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to an area of the brain becomes obstructed. It can have serious and life threatening consequences. Regular aerobic exercise reduces the risk of a stroke by keeping the blood vessels and heart healthy.
It is also important for people who have had a stroke to stay as active as possible to support recovery and reduce the risk of another stroke. A doctor will advise a person on the best way to build up activity and start exercising again after a stroke.
6. Increasing lifespan
Aerobic exercise has such a broad range of health benefits that it helps people live longer. Higher levels of aerobic activity reduce the risk of death, regardless of the intensity of the activity.
7. Improving physical functioning
The ability to perform tasks for daily living is important in maintaining independence and well-being. Aerobic exercise improves the physical capabilities that are necessary for a person to function on a daily basis. Physical fitness also helps prevent falls and the resulting injuries.
Benefits for the brain
Aerobic exercise also benefits the brain in the following ways:
1. Reducing the risk of dementia
Regular aerobic exercise is one of the most effective methods of preventing Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.
Research has shown that people with higher levels of physical activity have a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
2. Helping with symptoms of depression and anxiety
Several clinical trials have found that aerobic exercise reduces symptoms in people with depression and anxiety disorders. Aerobic exercise also improves physical fitness, which may help prevent the onset of depression and anxiety disorders.
3. Enhancing cognitive performance
While aerobic exercise may delay cognitive decline in later life, it can also boost thought processes in children and adolescents.
Several studies have found evidence to suggest that aerobic exercise and physical fitness have links with better grades at school and improved performance on cognitive tasks, such as memory tests.
4. Improving brain health
Aerobic exercise causes many biological processes that help the brain function. The authors of a recent review article concluded that aerobic exercise could:
- increase the size and function of key brain regions, such as the hippocampus
- help the brain control responses to stress
- reduce inflammation
- increase resistance to oxidative stress
Aerobic exercise is generally safe for most people. To avoid injuries, it is always a good idea to discuss exercise regimens with a professional.
People who have chronic health conditions should check with a doctor that their exercise plan is suitable. In some cases, people with heart conditions or high blood pressure may need to avoid high intensity exercise.
Read more about the general health benefits of exercise here.
Aerobic exercise provides a wide range of benefits for the body and brain.
National physical activity guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of high intensity aerobic activity every week. Getting more exercise than this will likely have additional benefits.
For some people, it may be difficult to find time for sports or regular visits to the gym. However, making small changes to daily routines can help these individuals reach the recommended amount of physical activity. For example, they could take the stairs instead of the lift or, when possible, try walking instead of driving.