Most of us are familiar with the benefits of aerobic exercise. But let’s put it all together step by step.
- Improves cardiovascular health. The heart is a muscle, and exercising to make your heart beat faster makes your heart stronger, so that you don’t get tired so quickly. It increases the circulation in the heart to bring more oxygen to the heart muscle. Aerobic exercise also decreases the bad cholesterol levels and increases the good cholesterol levels, making it easier for the blood to circulate.
- Lowers the resting blood pressure and resting heart rate (pulse). If you think about your heart having a maximum speed, and your blood pressure having a maximum pressure, lowering the resting blood pressure and heart rate gives you more to work with- a greater distance between the lowest and the highest heart rate and blood pressure you can have before having a heart attack or stroke. You are able to do more and do it longer before becoming too tired to continue.
- Regulates weight. Aerobic exercise burns fat. Four miles of brisk walking can burn 400 to 600 calories depending on your weight and the speed at which you walk. We all know that keeping our weight down makes us look better, and most of us like it when we look better. Keeping our weight down also takes stress off our back, hips, knees, ankles, and feet so they have less strain and pain.
- Helps to regulate blood sugar. Some diabetics are able to regulate their blood sugar with diet and exercise alone, but even if someone needs medication to regulate blood sugar, aerobic exercise can help. There has been some research that shows that people gain weight more easily when their blood sugar is high. And increased weight can make diabetes worse. ( Are you seeing a theme, here?)
- Frequently reduces chronic pain. Strengthening the muscles allow them to support the joints more easily. It’s also harder to strain a strong muscle than a weak one. Chronic pain is frequently made worse by fatigue, and aerobic exercise helps you to be able to do more before becoming tired. Aerobic exercise helps to increase the blood supply to the muscles, providing oxygen and nutrients. Chronic pain is made worse by being overweight, so regulating your weight is usually helpful. Aerobic exercise also helps your body produce endorphins, those natural pain killers and mood elevators.
- Strengthens the immune system by decreasing cortisol levels and increasing immunoglobulins, so you don’t catch every little illness that’s going around. It also increases the depth of your breathing, to help keep your lungs clear. Deep breathing can help decrease asthma symptoms, both the frequency and the intensity of an asthma attack.
- Improves brain power. The brain decreases in size as we get older. Aerobic exercise has been known to result in fewer reductions in the size of the frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes of the brain. These lobes are associated with memory, time, and spatial abilities, as well as problem solving. Other things being equal, aerobic exercise can help us live happier, more independent lives as we age.
- Elevates our mood. As previously mentioned, aerobic exercise causes our bodies to produce endorphins, that wonderful chemical that enhances feelings of well being, and decreases pain. A previous post discussed how much being outside can elevate our mood, and many of us do our aerobic activity outside.
- Increases bone density. Osteoporosis is a disease making the bones soft, brittle, and easy to break. It is especially common in Caucasian women and often affects the vertebrae in the back, hips and legs. Aerobic exercise that is weight bearing, like running, walking, cycling, helps to keep the bones stronger, avoiding the painful, humped back associated with compression fractures in the spine, and the risks associated with hip fractures.
10. Decreases the risk of falls. Increasing strength and balance both help decrease the risk of falling. Statistics show that one out of three people over 65 fall, and chances of injury are greater with osteoporosis. People also fall due to an underlying heart condition or blood pressure problem, which aerobic exercises can help.
Maybe you have never been an exerciser and figure it’s too late to start. Well, you should definitely check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you’re over 40, just to make sure your joints and your heart okay. Your doctor or health care provider can give you some ideas on what types of activities would be best for you, and which are likely to cause problems. But for most people, it’s never too late to start if you’re willing to take it slow in the beginning and increase gradually.
Consistency is one of the biggest factors. Most of us are really motivated in the beginning, but it gets harder to keep it up. It may be easier to have an exercise partner to help keep you motivated. And the best exercise buddy might be your dog.
Dogs never complain about the route you take, and they don’t cancel plans. In fact, they are so excited to go with you, that their energy is contagious. With 52% of dogs overweight or obese, your canine friend could probably use some of those aerobic benefits too!
Just be careful about which exercise types are good for your dog. Small dogs may not be able to keep up with a runner, and some large breeds have hip dysplasia, making long runs painful for them. Dogs with flat faces may have trouble breathing if they work too hard. Dogs that are too young may damage their joints or bones by running on a hard surface if they are not done growing. Check with your vet for ideas on which exercises would be best for your dog. Keep it fun and enjoy the extra time and bonding with your furry friends.
Like you, dogs will need to start out slow and may need water breaks. Dogs do not sweat, so if it’s too hot, they can become overheated. And they may need footwear to keep the pads of their feet from being burned on the hot pavement.
Walking with my dogs is one of my favorite ways to exercise outdoors. Maybe that closer relationship with your dog would be the eleventh amazing benefit of aerobic exercise.
Blessings and Peace,