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Staying active is one of the major keys to unlocking good health, but not all forms of exercise are created equal. While both strength training and aerobic exercise are essential for wellbeing, each delivers different benefits.
While strength training uses resistance to build our muscles, “aerobic exercise is physical exercise of low to medium intensity that depends primarily on the use of oxygen pumped by the heart to meet the energy demands of the body during exercise,” explains personal trainer Kristy Curtis.
Running is great, but all types of aerobic training offer amazing physical benefits, she says.
“Aerobic activity improves our cardiovascular fitness, decreases our risk of heart disease, lowers blood pressure, increases HDL (or ‘good’) cholesterol, helps control blood sugar, assists in weight management and weight loss, improves lung function and decreases our resting heart rate.”
That’s quite the list of reasons to get moving!
Aerobic activity can also help lower stress and depression, particularly when we get out into nature (think: running, walking or cycling). It can also help us sleep better, as well as boost our confidence and happiness.
It might sound like a lot, but a mindset shift can help us get there – try to think of exercise as an opportunity to improve your health, rather than an inconvenience. Take the stairs instead of the lift; the bike instead of the car. And remember, you don’t have to do half an hour of continuous exercise – it’s fine to break it into a few 10- to 15-minute sessions across the day.
So how can you get more ‘huff and puff’ into your life? There is a huge list of aerobic exercises you can try! Some popular aerobic exercise examples are:
Group activities and sports offer a bonus benefit, allowing you to connect with others and meet new people. This can help you to stay motivated, work harder and can provide additional mental-health benefits.
Keen to get started? Kristy explains some simple ways to get moving for beginners.
One of the benefits of walking is that it’s low-impact. “It is also one of those rare types of exercises that you can do every day and not pull up too sore or fatigued,” Kristy says. “In order to get started with any type of walking program it’s best to start off conservatively, and increase the kilometres and ramp up the difficulty of the terrain as you get fitter.”
“This is more of a high-intensity exercise and can be quite demanding on the joints and muscles of the body,” says Kristy, advising a slow-and-steady approach when starting a running program. “The safest approach is to break up the distance with intervals of walking and jogging – for example, walk to one lamp post and then run the next. This allows your muscles and tendons to get used to the exercise, reducing your chance of muscular soreness and injury.”
Whether you take a dip in the local pool or the ocean, this low-impact exercise offers a great aerobic workout – and can also be beneficial for people with asthma (just make sure you speak to your doctor before starting any new program). It does take a little longer to adapt to this type of exercise than other sports, says Kristy, as you need to get used to the breathing and the weightlessness in the water. “To get started, aim to swim for a period of 15-20 minutes and rest as often as you need to,” she advises. “Aim for 10 swims in the next month and watch how quickly your fitness and endurance improve.”
Try to think of exercise as an opportunity to improve your health, rather than an inconvenience
“The best way to learn dancing is just to start!” says Kristy. “Put on some music at home and just start moving to the beat. You may feel a little self-conscious at first but dancing is about letting go of your inhibitions.” If you prefer something more structured, look into beginners’ classes in your local area. From hip hop to ballet, Zumba to ballroom dancing, there’s something for everyone.
“This is a great way to improve your fitness while learning a new skill at the same time,” says Kristy. “If you are going to take up boxing regularly, invest in a supportive set of gloves and wraps for your hands.” Search online for beginners’ classes and choose a boxing coach who can teach you the right technique to minimise your risk of injury.
For at-home workout ideas, exercise guides and tips on improving your physical wellbeing, check out The Check Up’s dedicated fitness section.
Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.