Exercise, Part 5: Aerobic Exercise

What’s “aerobic activity”? Just about anything that mostly makes you huff and puff. In other words, get short of breath to some degree. Examples are brisk walking, swimming, golf (pulling a cart or carrying clubs), lawn work, painting, home repair, racket sports and table tennis, house cleaning, leisurely canoeing, jogging, bicycling, jumping rope, and skiing. The possibilities are endless. A leisurely stroll in the shopping mall doesn’t qualify, unless that makes you short of breath. Don’t laugh: that is a workout for many who are obese.

But which aerobic physical activity is best? Glad you asked!

The most important criterion is that it be pleasant for you. If not outright fun, it should be often enjoyable and always tolerable.

Your exercise of choice should also be available year-round, affordable, safe, and utilize large muscle groups. The greater mass and number of muscles used, the more calories you will burn, which is important if you’re trying to lose weight or prevent gain. Compare tennis playing with sitting in a chair squeezing a tennis ball repetitively. The tennis player burns calories much faster. Your largest muscles are in your legs, so consider walking, biking, many team sports, ski machines, jogging, treadmill, swimming, water aerobics, stationary cycling, stair-steppers, tennis, volleyball, roller-skating, rowing, jumping rope, and yard work.

Walking is “just what the doctor ordered” for many people. It’s readily available, affordable, usually safe, and requires little instruction. If it’s too hot, too cold, or rainy outside, you can do it in a mall, gymnasium, or health club.

Another option is instructional exercise DVDs, often featuring either a celebrity or prominent fitness trainer. Many of these programs require only a pair of sneakers and loose clothing. Others include the option of using inexpensive equipment, such as light hand-held weights.

If exercise videos sound appealing, consider one of these: Walk Away the Pounds—Walk Strong, by Leslie Sansone; Tighter Assets With Tamilee: Weight Loss & Cardio, by Tamilee Webb; Burn & Firm—Circuit Training, by Karen Voight; Minna Optimizer—Balanced Blend, by Minna Lessig; Personal Training System, by Denise Austin; Timesaver—Lift Weights to Lose Weight (volumes 1 & 2), Super Slimdown Circuit, and Functionally Fit—Peak Fat Burning, by Kathy Smith. Search for these titles at Amazon.com, where you can read reviews of them by actual users. Although many of these are designed for weight loss, you’ll get a good workout even if you’re at a healthy weight. Several of them also feature strength training.

Another fun option for indoor aerobic exercise is Dance Dance Revolution by Konami. Perhaps you’ve seen a version of this video game in an arcade. You must use a video game console, such as a PlayStation or Xbox, and the Dance Dance Revolution Controller along with your TV screen. The controller is a 32 inch by 36 inch (81 x 91 cm) floor pad partitioned into several large squares. The TV screen shows you which squares to step on in sequence as the music plays, and you rack up points for accurate timing and foot placement. If you enjoy moving to music, it’s more fun than I can describe

The latest indoor computerized exercise gadgets are the Kinect for Microsoft’s Xbox 360, the PlayStation Move, and Wii Fit. Check’em out.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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