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What is Aerobic Exercise?

The President's Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition recommends that adults perform at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity per week.

What is moderate and vigorous aerobic activity?

Aerobic exercise or “cardio” is physical activity that specifically relies on oxygen-dependent energy production. In other words, aerobic exercises are activities that raise your heart rate but can be sustained for some time.

A good rule of thumb for moderate intensity is that you should be able to talk, but not have a conversation, during the activity. Some examples of moderate intensity aerobic activity include:

  • Walking about 3.5 miles per hour (about 17 minutes per mile)
  • Biking less than 10 miles per hour
  • Gardening
  • Golfing (without a cart)
  • Dancing
  • Swimming (recreationally)

Vigorous aerobic activity, on the other hand, is typically demanding enough to stop people from speaking more than one or two words until they are done exercising. The following are just a few examples of vigorous physical activity:

  • Running/jogging about 5 miles per hour (about 12 minutes per mile)
  • Biking more than 10 miles per hour
  • Yard work (shoveling, chopping wood, using a push mower, etc.)
  • Competitive sports (basketball, tennis, spikeball, etc.)
  • Swimming (laps)

Some is better than none

Researchers used to believe that aerobic activity sessions had to be at least 10 minutes long for people to see benefits. Now, the thought is that they can be shorter. The important thing is to be active. Some aerobic activity is better than none.

When should I get aerobic exercise?

The health benefits of aerobic exercise seem to be maximized when they are spread out. Consider building aerobic activities into your routines. Some ideas include:

  • Walk during your breaks at work
  • Join a rec-team
  • Bike or walk to work
  • Find a physically active hobby such as dancing, woodworking or gardening


Nathaniel Johnson,
NDSU Doctoral Student, Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences, and NDSU Extension Program Assistant

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Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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