In health clubs, they run classes that call themselves "aerobics". As you will come to see, they are neither aerobic, nor are they the best way to lose the excess fat. The main thing they accomplish for you is losing weight from your wallet.
The word "aerobic" literally means "with air". It is the opposite of anaerobic (without air). These terms refer to the way in which your cells are providing the energy for your muscles to work. Anaerobic means sugars are being burned without oxygen, which creates a by-product of lactic acid. This lactic acid accumulates in your muscles, causing them to feel like they're burning. Aerobic means that blood sugar and fat are being burned in oxygen, which has only carbon dioxide as a by-product, which you exhale. Low intensity exercise is aerobic because you can inhale enough oxygen to meet your muscles' energy needs. High intensity exercise needs far more energy, but you can't breathe in enough air to keep up, so you feel "out of breath". But your muscles still need the energy, so they switch to anaerobic. However, you can't burn fat in anaerobic mode, only sugars, so you can't keep it up too long, and you're not accomplishing your goal of fat-reduction.
Whatever activity you choose, you know you're in an aerobic mode if you can take deep breaths and carry on a conversation. If you're taking fast, shallow breaths through your mouth, then no matter how slow you may be going or what kind of activity it is, you're doing it anaerobically. Does that mean that walking to the store is aerobic activity? Yes. Most things you do all day are aerobic. For it to be exercise, though, you have to raise your heart rate. So, get the blood flowing by walking fast, and you'll be burning fat in no time.
For aerobic exercise to be effective, it has to be long duration. When you start to move around, your body will burn blood-sugar in oxygen aerobically, but it won't trigger your fat cells to provide any fat to burn right away. Your body would prefer to wait for your next meal to replace the blood sugar. It's only when you show your body that it will need more energy right away that it will recruit fat from your fat stores. Once the fat starts to flow, you have to burn it, or else it will be re-deposited unused. So what does that mean? When you do a low-intensity exercise, it will really do you no good until you pass the 15-20 minute mark. Until then, you are just burning blood-sugar. Once the fat starts to flow, that's when the work really begins, and you should continue exercising and burning that fat for at least 20 more minutes if you continue your low-intensity activity. If you switch to a higher-intensity activity, try to breathe as deeply as possible to continue your aerobic burning.
Use Your Biggest Weapons
If your goal is fat-reduction and you want to achieve it as quickly as possible, you must use your biggest weapons. Larger muscles burn more energy than smaller muscles. Therefore, your choice of exercise should make use of your largest muscles, which are your gluteus maximus and your quadriceps... your butt and your thighs. Walking, jogging, stair climbing, cross country skiing, rollerblading and bicycling are all great examples of activities you can keep up for a long period of time, while breathing deeply and using your largest muscles. Swimming, unfortunately, is mostly an upper-body activity, no matter how hard you think you're kicking.
The arm movements that you see some "power-walkers" doing, as well as the complicated patterns in "aerobics" classes at the gym are doing nothing to speed up weight loss. Arm swinging can improve your circulation and keep your mind occupied, but is not necessary, and certainly is no substitute for a good leg workout.
High Intensity Usefulness
High intensity exercise has it's good points, though. It is important to remember that a well-conditioned heart and lungs can fight heart disease and stroke, and makes all forms of exercise more effective. The only way to improve the function of your heart and lungs is to push them harder than normal, into the anaerobic side of things. When you're struggling for breath, breathing rapidly, and your heart is pumping at its maximum, you are making them more powerful and prolonging your life. Although anaerobic exercise does not burn fat while you're doing it, the exercise itself raises your metabolism so that you burn fat afterward for several hours. This is because your body is replacing all the energy you used. My other recommendations can be found in my article on Exercise.
Those high-intensity classes offered by health clubs are good for some people, but there's no good reason for you to join one if you've never done it before. For some people, it makes the workout fun, which is a great motivator. The coach or instructor is also a great source of motivation because they encourage you to continue and push harder. Many people need that. Just remember that it is NOT aerobic exercise. The complicated patterns and arm movements serve no purpose, and if you can't keep up for more than 20 minutes, it may be a waste of time. For most men (and women) it is far better to do a nice low-intensity warm up for 20 minutes, followed by a moderate to high intensity run or bike for another 10-15 minutes. To get the best aerobic benefits, try to breathe deeply throughout, because that's what aerobics is really about!
Aerobics is good, but there are better exercises for weight loss, read my article called Exercise: Essential.
Aerobic exercise can be a part of your weight-loss equation. But the most important part you can't find in a gym, learn more on my site.
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