Aerobic exercise works your heart and lungs and uses large muscle groups, such as those in your legs. It does this repetitively for a period of time. It makes you breathe harder and raises your heart rate, so your heart works harder to pump blood through the body. It is particularly good for your heart and cardiovascular system. These are some common aerobic exercises:
- Daily activities. Taking the stairs, doing housework, gardening, walking a dog and playing games with children are all considered moderate-intensity activities by the World Health Organisation.
- Walking briskly. This is one of the simplest and most effective aerobic exercises. It is also a weight-bearing exercise, because your feet and legs support your body’s weight. This means it’s good for strengthening your bones (the spine, pelvis and leg bones). All you need are comfortable walking shoes.
- Gardening. This is a way of enjoying some physical activity outdoors. It can also be therapeutic to watch your garden grow. If you don’t have access to a garden, there are schemes across the UK where you can garden, grow fruit and vegetables or take part in nature conservation, for example green gyms. Visit your local authority’s website to see what schemes might be available near you.
- Running and jogging. These can be considered as vigorous activity. They are great for your heart and lungs, and they are weight-bearing exercises. These activities are high impact and may put stress on your spine and joints. So if you have bone or joint problems, you should choose something gentler, such as jogging on a trampoline.
- Cycling and swimming. These are good for your heart and lungs. They strengthen your muscles but put very little strain on your joints, because they are weight-supported exercises. They can be good activities if you have bone or joint pain. Swimming is particularly beneficial if you have lymphoedema. Swimming is not recommended if you have irritated skin due to radiotherapy, or if you’re having chemotherapy – especially if you have a PICC line or central line.
- Group exercise. There are other aerobic exercise options that you could do with a friend or a group. These include aerobics classes, dancing, golf, tennis, badminton and bowling.
If you haven’t been active for a long time, increase your activity slowly. Try to do a little more in time and distance each week. When you’re comfortable doing an activity for longer, you can think about increasing the intensity, for example walking the same distance but in a shorter time.
This is how it feels to be active at different intensities:
- Light intensity – You are breathing and talking easily and it doesn’t feel like there is a lot of effort involved.
- Moderate intensity – Your breathing is quicker and deeper, but you are able to talk. Your body warms up, your face has a healthy glow and your heart is beating faster than normal but not racing.
- Vigorous or high intensity – You are breathing very hard, so you can’t carry on a conversation. Your heartbeat feels fast.