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Jumpstart your fitness journey: a beginner's guide to aerobic exercise for a healthy heart

When it comes to improving your overall fitness and health, aerobic activity is an essential component. Aerobic exercise is any form of physical exercise that requires a steady supply of oxygen to the body to perform. It is an effective way to condition the heart to pump blood more efficiently to the whole body, increase lung function, and burn calories.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adults should do at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or at least 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week. This recommendation is also applicable to adults with chronic health conditions like Type 2 Diabetes, blood pressure, HIV, and cancer survivors. For pregnant women and post-child delivery without any complications, the WHO advises at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week.

Tips for Starting Your Aerobic Fitness Routine

Starting an aerobic fitness routine can seem daunting, but with a few simple tips and strategies, it can be easy and enjoyable:

  • Choose an activity that you enjoy and that fits your lifestyle, such as walking, jogging, hiking, cycling, swimming, or dancing.

  • Start slowly and gradually increase your intensity and duration, over time.

  • Don't forget to warm up before exercising and cool down afterward to prevent injury.

  • Finally, listen to your body and adjust your routine, as needed.

With a little persistence and dedication, aerobic exercise can be a fun and rewarding way to improve your health and fitness.

Top Aerobic Exercises for a Healthier and Fitter You

There are many sports that can be considered a form of aerobic activity, as they increase the heart rate and require sustained physical effort. Running, jogging, cycling, swimming, dancing, jumping rope, tennis, basketball, soccer, cross-country skiing, and rowing are excellent ways to get your heart pumping and improve your overall cardiovascular fitness

However, there are many other forms of aerobic activity that you can incorporate into your exercise routine to improve your cardiovascular fitness, endurance, and overall health. You can easily perform them at home or at your nearest gym. Here are a few examples:

1. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT):

HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by brief periods of rest or recovery. This type of exercise can be very effective for improving cardiovascular fitness, burning fat, and increasing overall metabolic rate.

Almost any exercise or workout can become a HIIT workout if you work for short bursts of intensive movements followed by a longer period of rest.

For example, a workout on a stationary bike might include 30 seconds of cycling at a high intensity, followed by 30 seconds of rest or cycling at a low intensity. This cycle can be repeated for a set number of rounds, typically 10-20, with a brief rest period in between each round.

Beginner’s guide

  • Start with a 5-minute warm-up of light cardio and stretching.

  • Perform 30 seconds of high-intensity exercise (e.g., sprinting, cycling at high resistance, jumping jacks) followed by 1 minute of low-intensity exercise (e.g., walking, cycling at low resistance, marching in place) for a total of 10 cycles.

  • Finish with a 5-minute cool down of light cardio and stretching.

2. Stair Climbing:

Stair climbing can be done almost anywhere, whether you're at home, work, or in a public building. You don't need any special equipment, and you can adjust the intensity of the exercise by changing the speed or number of steps you take.

Beginner’s guide

  • Warm-up: Before starting your stair climbing workout, warm up your muscles by performing some light cardio, such as jogging or walking, for 5-10 minutes.

  • Start slow: If you're new to stair climbing, start with a slow and steady pace and gradually increase the intensity over time. Use the handrail for support if needed, especially when going down the stairs.

  • Maintain posture: Keep your back straight and your core engaged while climbing the stairs. Take small steps and land on your entire foot, not just your toes. Try to avoid leaning forward or hunching your shoulders.

  • Intensity: The intensity of your stair climbing workout will depend on your fitness level and goals. You can vary the intensity by increasing the speed, taking two stairs at a time, or adding weights, such as a backpack or ankle weights.

  • Duration: Aim to complete at least 20-30 minutes of stair climbing, with breaks as needed. You can also break up your stair climbing workout into shorter intervals throughout the day.

  • Cool-down and stretch: After completing your stair climbing workout, take some time to cool down and stretch your leg muscles to prevent injury and aid in recovery.

Remember to listen to your body and take breaks as needed, especially if you feel any pain or discomfort

3. Elliptical trainer:

This low-impact exercise machine provides a full-body workout that can help to improve cardiovascular fitness, lower-body strength, and overall endurance. It involves using an elliptical machine, which has foot pedals and handles that move in an elliptical motion.

The intensity of your elliptical workout will depend on your fitness level and goals. You can vary the intensity by adjusting the resistance level or incline, increasing the speed, or using interval training.

Aim to complete at least 20-30 minutes of elliptical training, with breaks as needed. You can also break up your elliptical workout into shorter intervals throughout the day.

4. Step Aerobics:

This form of aerobic exercise involves performing choreographed movements up and down a raised platform or step, which can help to improve cardiovascular endurance and lower-body strength.

For example, step up with one foot, then bring the other foot up to meet it on the step followed by step down with one foot, then the other.

As you become more comfortable with these basic steps, you can add variations and combinations to create a more challenging workout. It's important to use proper form and maintain a steady pace to avoid injury and get the most out of your step aerobics workout.

5. Water Aerobics:

Water aerobics is a low-impact workout that can be ideal for those who suffer from joint pain. The water provides a natural resistance that increases the intensity of the workout, while also supporting the body and reducing the impact on the joints. This makes water aerobics an ideal form of exercise for people with joint pain, arthritis, or other conditions that make high-impact exercises difficult. It can help to improve cardiovascular fitness, muscle tone, and flexibility.

  • Find a pool: Look for a pool that is deep enough to allow for full-body movements and has a temperature that is comfortable for you.

  • Warm up: Start with gentle movements such as walking or marching in place for five to ten minutes to get your blood flowing and loosen up your muscles.

  • Perform your exercises: You can perform a range of exercises such as water walking, jogging, jumping jacks, leg lifts, knee tucks, and arm curls. Use the resistance of the water to increase the intensity of your workout.

  • Incorporate equipment: You can use aquatic weights, noodles, and other equipment to add resistance and variety to your workout. These can be used for exercises such as bicep curls, tricep extensions, and shoulder presses.

  • Cool down and stretch: End your session with some gentle movements and stretching to prevent soreness and injury. Walk or jog in the water for a few minutes, then perform some stretches for your legs, arms, and back.

  • Stay hydrated: It's important to drink water before, during, and after your workout, even though you're in the water.

  • Consult with an instructor: If you're new to water aerobics, it's a good idea to consult with a qualified instructor to ensure you're performing the exercises safely and effectively.

6. Group Fitness Classes:

There are many different types of group fitness classes that offer aerobic exercise, such as dance-based classes like Zumba, kickboxing, and spinning classes, many of which can be found online.

7. Hiking:

Going for a hike in nature is not only a great way to get some fresh air, but it can also be a challenging workout that engages your whole body.

Here are some things to keep in mind when using hiking as a form of aerobic activity:

  • Start slow: If you're new to hiking, start with shorter and easier trails before moving onto more challenging ones.

  • Wear appropriate clothing: Wear comfortable and breathable clothing that's suitable for the weather conditions. Use sturdy and supportive shoes with good traction.

  • Carry enough water and food: Make sure to bring enough water and snacks to keep you hydrated and energized during the hike.

  • Pace yourself: Set a comfortable pace and take breaks as needed. Listen to your body and slow down if you start to feel tired or out of breath.

8. Circuit Training:

Circuit training involves performing a series of exercises that target different muscle groups, one after the other, with little or no rest in between. It can help to improve cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance, and overall fitness. This is a great way to challenge your body and keep your workouts interesting. Be sure to adjust the exercises and intensity to fit your fitness level and goals.

Beginner’s guide

  • Bodyweight squats (10 reps)

  • Push-ups (5-10 reps)

  • Alternating lunges (10 reps per leg)

  • Plank (30 seconds)

  • Jumping jacks (30 seconds)

  • Bicycle crunches (10 reps per side)

Perform each exercise for the recommended number of reps or time, with little to no rest in between exercises. Complete the circuit 2-3 times, depending on your fitness level and how much time you have. Remember to warm up before starting the workout and cool down and stretch afterwards to prevent injury and aid in recovery.

As you become more comfortable with circuit training, you can gradually increase the intensity and complexity of the exercises, add more circuits, or create specific circuits targeting different muscle groups. But starting with a basic full-body circuit is a great way to get started and build a strong foundation.

By incorporating aerobic exercise into your daily routine, you can enhance your cardiovascular health, boost your mood, and reduce your risk of chronic disease. Remember to start slowly, gradually increase your intensity and duration, and choose activities that you enjoy. With patience and dedication, you can make aerobic exercise a part of your healthy lifestyle for years to come.


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