Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise is physical exercise of low to high intensity that depends primarily on the aerobic energy-generating process.

Aerobic and refers to the use of oxygen to meet energy demands during exercise via aerobic metabolism.

Aerobic exercise is performed by repeating sequences of light-to-moderate intensity activities for extended periods of time.

Examples of cardiovascular or aerobic exercise are medium- to long-distance running or jogging, swimming, cycling, stair climbing and walking.

To reduce the risk of health issues, 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week is recommended.

Doing an hour and a quarter a week  (11 minutes/day) of exercise can reduce the risk of early death, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer.

Solely aerobic exercise is low-intensity enough that all carbohydrates are aerobically turned into energy via mitochondrial ATP production. 

Mitochondria are organelles that rely on oxygen for the metabolism of carbs, proteins, and fats. 

Aerobic exercise causes a remodeling of mitochondrial cells within the tissues of the liver and heart.

Aerobic exercise comprises innumerable forms, performed at a moderate level of intensity over a relatively long period of time. 

Running a long distance at a moderate pace is an aerobic exercise, but sprinting is not. 

Activities with brief bursts of energetic movement within longer periods of casual movement may not be aerobic. 

Aerobic dance classes, are designed specifically to improve aerobic capacity and fitness. 

It is most common for aerobic exercises to involve the leg muscles, primarily or exclusively: exceptions-rowing .

Moderate activities



Hiking on flat ground

Bicycling at less than 10 miles per hour (16 km/h)

Moderate walking (about 3.5 miles per hour (5.6 km/h))

Downhill skiing




Light yard work


Vigorous activities

Brisk walking (about 4.5 miles per hour (7.2 km/h))

Bicycling at more than 10 miles per hour (16 km/h)

Hiking uphill

Cross-country skiing

Stair climbing



Jumping rope

Tennis (singles)


Heavy yard work

Aerobic exercise and fitness can be contrasted with anaerobic exercise, of which strength training and short-distance running are the most prominent examples. 

The two types of exercise differ by the duration and intensity of muscular contractions involved, as well as by how energy is generated within the muscle.

Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise promote the secretion of myokines, with attendant benefits including growth of new tissue, tissue repair, and various anti-inflammatory functions, which in turn reduce the risk of developing various inflammatory diseases.

Myokine secretion in turn is dependent on the amount of muscle contracted, and the duration and intensity of contraction. 

As such, both types of exercise produce endocrine benefits.

Anaerobic exercise is almost always accompanied by aerobic exercises because the less efficient anaerobic metabolism must supplement the aerobic system due to energy demands that exceed the aerobic system’s capacity. 

During anaerobic exercise, the body must generate energy through other processes than aerobic metabolism.

These processes include glycolysis paired with lactic acid fermentation, and the phosphocreatine system to generate energy in the form of ATP. 

Allowing 24 hours of recovery between aerobic and strength exercise leads to greater fitness.

The body preferentially utilizes certain fuel forms depending on the intensity of exercise to meet energy demands. 

The two main fuel sources for aerobic exercise:  fat in the form of adipose tissue and glycogen. 

At lower intensity aerobic exercise, the body preferentially uses fat as its main fuel source for cellular respiration.

As exercise intensity increases the body preferentially uses glycogen stored in the muscles and liver or other carbohydrates, as it is a quicker source of energy.

Aerobic exercise at low or moderate intensity, and is not a very efficient way to lose fat in comparison to high intensity aerobic exercise. 

Lipolysis, or the hydrolysis of triglyceride into fatty acids, not fat burning by the conversion of fatty acid to carbon dioxide explains the intensity-dependent fat mass reduction. 

The size of adipose tissue is determined by the magnitude of nutrient competition from muscle and lungs for cell regeneration and energy replenishment after exercise.

The health benefits of regular aerobic exercise are:

Aerobic exercise increases the production of neurotrophic factors that promote growth or survival of neurons, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).

Long-term effects of aerobic exercise may include increased neuron growth, increased neurological activity and signaling of Fos and BDNF, improved stress coping, enhanced cognitive control of behavior, improved declarative, spatial, and working memory, and structural and functional improvements in brain structures and pathways associated with cognitive control and memory.

Aerobic exercise increases the production of neurotrophic factors-BDNF, IGF-1, VEGF, which mediate improvements in cognitive functions and various forms of memory by promoting blood vessel formation in the brain, adult neurogenesis, and other forms of neuroplasticity.

Engaging in moderate-high intensity aerobic exercise such as running, swimming, and cycling increases BDNF biosynthesis through myokine signaling, resulting in up to a threefold increase in blood plasma and BDNF levels; exercise intensity is positively correlated with the magnitude of increased BDNF biosynthesis and expression.

Consistent aerobic exercise over a period of several months induces marked clinically significant improvements in executive function,  the cognitive control of behavior, and increases gray matter volume in multiple brain regions, particularly those that give rise to cognitive control.

Consistent aerobic exercise over a period of several months induces improvements in executive functions and increased gray matter volume in nearly all regions of the brain,, with the most marked increases occurring in brain regions that give rise to executive functions.

Aerobic exercise affects both self-esteem and overall well-being including sleep patterns, with consistent, long term participation.

Regular aerobic exercise may improve symptoms associated with central nervous system disorders and may be used as adjunct therapy.

Evidence exists that exercise treatment efficacy for major depressive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The brain structures that show the greatest improvements in gray matter volume in response to aerobic exercise are the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus; moderate improvements are seen in the anterior cingulate cortex, parietal cortex, cerebellum, caudate nucleus, and nucleus accumbens.

Aerobic exercise may improve mood, and slightly reduced depression 

Aerobic exercise has both short and long term effects on mood and emotional states by promoting positive affect, inhibiting negative affect, and decreasing the biological response to acute psychological stress.

Aerobic exercise strengthens and enlarges the heart muscle, to improve its pumping efficiency and reduce the resting heart rate (aerobic conditioning).

May improve circulation efficiency and reduce blood pressure.

May help maintain independence in later life.

Increases the total number of red blood cells in the body, facilitating transport of oxygen.

Improves mental health, including reducing stress and lowering the incidence of depression, as well as increased cognitive capacity.

Reduces the risk for diabetes, and aerobic exercise does help lower Hb A1Clevels for type 2 diabetics.

Moderates the risk of death due to cardiovascular problems.

Promotes weight loss.

Reduces the risk of osteoporosis.

May improve episodic memory.

Risks and disadvantages of aerobic exercise:

Overuse injuries of the musculoskeletal system because of repetitive exercise, with young athletes particularly at risk.

Overtraining syndrome may lead to persistent dysfunction of a number of body systems.

High volumes of training with insufficient calorie intake puts athletes—particularly female ones—at risk for relatively deficient energy.

High-intensity interval training has been shown to provide similar benefits in a fraction of the time spent exercising per week.

Most authorities suggest at least twenty minutes of aerobic exercise be performed at least three times per week.

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