Starting an Aerobic Exercise Program

Start exercising for cardiovascular health with this introduction to aerobics fundamentals, plus an illustrated beginners' aerobics workout.

| September/October 1983

It seems that people from all walks of life are joining the burgeoning ranks of aerobic exercisers. Just look around! City parks are crowded with noon-hour runners, living rooms are reverberating with the grunts and groans of men and women taking up the challenge of the Jane Fonda Workout, and exercise studios of every description (with programs that run the gamut from common sense to unproven theory) are crammed with folks in search of fitness.

Of course, aerobic exercise isn't the only (or even a complete) route to good health and extra energy, but creating such an exercise routine for yourself is an excellent way to start down the road to a healthier, more fulfilling (and perhaps even longer) life. And once you get yourself moving on a regular basis, you might just find that your other habits will improve also. However, I think it's best to consider the health benefits as a bonus, because aerobic exercise is first, foremost, and primarily fun!

[EDITOR'S NOTE: See the image gallery for an illustrated guide through a beginning aerobic exercise program.] 

What is Aerobics?

Simply put, aerobic means "with oxygen." Aerobic exercise, then, is any type of vigorous, and extended, activity (such as running, swimming, dancing, etc.) that tends to increase the efficiency with which the body takes in and utilizes oxygen. It's also isotonic, which means that it typically works the large muscle groups in unison, as opposed to isometric exercises, which build body strength by forcing muscles to function in opposition to each other for short periods of time. Nonstop aerobic movement causes the lungs and heart to constantly pump life-sustaining oxygen through the blood, and, by toning the muscles and heart, can help you develop both strength and endurance.

As a stress-management consultant (and an enthusiastic exerciser myself) I'm a true aerobics aficionado, not only because I believe this type of movement provides a proven avenue to physical fitness, but also because I feel that it offers a viable means of releasing emotional tension and, therefore, increasing mental concentration. However, no form of exercise will let you achieve a self-sustaining plateau of fitness. Getting and staying in shape requires a lifetime commitment! Most people, though, discover that once they start working out on a regular basis they soon enjoy exercising so much (and it becomes such an important part of their daily routine) that giving it up begins to seem downright unthinkable!

Choose the Right Aerobic Exercise Program

When contemplating which sort of aerobic activity you'd like to take up (and there are many), first consider the needs of your body, and then think about what sort of exercise you'd most enjoy doing. For instance, if you have a weak back and you like water sports, why not take up swimming? It will probably be fun and will help strengthen your sacroiliac (whereas jogging could jar your back, making exercising so painful that you'd soon abandon it).

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