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Aerobic exercise isn’t all thong leotards and step workouts. While that style of classes became known as “aerobics” back in the ’80s and ’90s, aerobic exercise is another (somewhat retro and also official) name for cardio.

“Aerobic exercise keeps the heart rate elevated for sustained periods of time,” says ShaNay Norvell, a certified personal trainer based in Atlanta who’s been voted “Atlanta’s fittest athlete” and was a runner-up on “American Gladiator.”

Aerobic exercises usually involve your whole body — and they get your heart pumping and keep it that way, says Norvell, who has also taught aerobics classes.

And, she says, aerobic workouts are known to:

  • strengthen your heart and lungs
  • help with weight loss
  • build endurance and stamina (helpful for day-to-day activities)
  • help decrease anxiety
  • increase positive moods (thanks to the release of endorphins)
  • help lower blood pressure

Not bad, right? But what exercises are considered aerobics?

Aerobics (or cardio) can be done just about anywhere, with little or no equipment. To prevent injuries, always warm up before you do any type of workout.

Aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (meaning you can carry on a conversation but feel yourself working) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.

Here are some examples of aerobic exercise to help you get started.

Running/jogging

Equipment: Running shoes

How to do it: If you’re new to running, start slow and alternate walking and running for 1 minute at a time — and don’t forget to cool down and stretch! Aim for shorter sessions a couple of times a week at first, and then add more as you get stronger.

Duration and frequency: 20–60 minutes, 2 or 3 times per week

Walking

Equipment: Sneakers with good ankle support

How to do it: When you pick up the pace to get your heart pumping, walking is awesome aerobic exercise because you can do it just about anywhere without looking like you’re working out. Squeeze in a few brisk 10-minute walks before and after work and at lunchtime or carve out time for longer walks.

Use the step counter on your phone or a fitness tracker to monitor your steps. Set a goal — 10,000 steps per day, 1,000 more per day than you averaged last month, or whatever works for you — and hit the pavement.

Work your way toward your goal by adding 500 to 1,000 steps to your daily tally every week until you hit your desired milestone.

Duration and frequency: 30–60 minutes, 2 or 3 times per week

Dancing

Equipment: Sneakers (optional) and music

How to do it: Dancing is the perfect aerobic exercise for people who hate working out. You get to turn on your favorite music and dance your heart out — in the privacy of your bedroom, if you choose. Don’t worry about how you look. Just move!

Before you know it, you’ll have been dancing for 30 minutes, an hour, or more — it’s the most fun you can have while exercising!

Duration and frequency: 20–60 minutes, 2 or 3 times per week

Jump rope

Equipment: Sneakers and a jump rope

How to do it: If you’re new to jumping rope, start with a goal of a set number of minutes or number of reps. Go a little longer each time. Beyond the usual cardio benefits, jumping rope can improve your proprioception (aka body awareness), agility, and hand-foot coordination.

Use this 15-minute jump rope workout to help you get started.

Duration and frequency: 10–25 minutes, 2 or 3 times per week

Aerobic strength circuit

Equipment: Sneakers and a sturdy chair or couch

How to do it: Yes, strength moves can be aerobic exercises! Circuits keep you moving to get your blood pumping, and they build strength in major muscle groups.

Use this strength and cardio circuit or build your own with classic moves, performing each for 1 minute at a time:

Walk or jog in place at the end of each circuit for a little active rest, and repeat the circuit 2 or 3 times. Feel free to rest for a few minutes (no more than 5) between rounds, and don’t forget your cooldown!

Duration and frequency: 15–25 minutes, 3–5 times per week

Have access to a gym? You have even more options for aerobic exercise!

Stair mill/stair stepper

Equipment: Sneakers

How to do it: You know how challenging walking up several flights of stairs can be — and a stair mill or stair stepper turns that everyday activity into an aerobic exercise.

Make sure you stay upright and don’t lean on the handles. Use your legs to step up and down, and keep your eyes forward while engaging your core.

Start at a slow pace to warm up, and then add resistance until you feel yourself working at a challenging pace you can maintain for the duration of your workout. Slow it back down to cool down. Start with short bursts — stair stepping is a challenge for new and conditioned exercisers alike!

Duration and frequency: 20–60 minutes, 3 times per week

Swimming

Equipment: Pool, swimsuit, and (optional) swim cap and goggles

How to do it: Swimming is a great workout that’s also no-impact, especially if your joints complain when you’re walking or running.

Start with laps using one stroke (the freestyle is great for newbies). Add more when you feel up to it, like the breaststroke, the backstroke, or (for more advanced swimmers) the butterfly.

Rest between laps as needed, and never swim alone or without a lifeguard present.

Duration and frequency: 10–30 minutes, 2–5 times a week. Try to increase your duration by 5 minutes each week.

Stationary bike

Equipment: Stationary bike, padded bike seat or shorts (optional), and sturdy shoes (cycling shoes optional)

How to do it: Make sure you adjust the bike to the proper height — at the gym, you can ask your cycling instructor to help. Otherwise, you could end up hurting your knees!

Warm up by riding at an easy pace for 5–10 minutes, and then increase your pace until it feels challenging. Ride steadily at that pace, coming out of the seat as needed, for 20–30 minutes to start. Ride slowly for 5 minutes to cool down.

Duration and frequency: 30–60 minutes, 3 times per week

Elliptical

Equipment: Elliptical machine and sneakers

How to do it: Make sure you stay upright and don’t lean on the handles. Use your legs to pedal, and keep your eyes forward while engaging your core.

Start at a slow pace to warm up, and then add resistance until you feel yourself working at a challenging pace you can maintain for the duration of your workout. Slow it back down to cool down.

Duration and frequency: 20–60 minutes, 2 or 3 times per week

If you can’t seem to motivate yourself to move on your own, join a class. The camaraderie and infectious energy offer a nice change of pace and can make working out more fun.

If you’re new, tell the instructor, who can offer suggestions to put you at ease. And don’t forget to bring water. Here are some of the most fun workouts you can do at the gym!

Cardio dance class

Equipment: Sneakers

How to do it: You can find all types of adult dance classes at gyms and dance studios. Try your hand at tap or jazz or check out the modern or hip-hop offerings.

Don’t shy away because you’re worried about not being “good.” These classes are more about having fun and getting your heart pumping than perfecting every move. Cardio dance classes are awesome for socializing with friends too.

Duration and frequency: 60 minutes, 1–3 times per week

Indoor cycling class (aka Spinning, SoulCycle, etc.)

Equipment: Stationary bike, padded bike seat or shorts (optional), and sturdy shoes (cycling shoes optional)

How to do it: Cycling classes are designed to be a challenging workout that can be scaled based on your fitness level. You can adjust the resistance to make it harder (or take it away to ease up). The class may include climbs, sprints, and intervals.

Some gyms require that you wear cycling shoes that “clip” into the bike. (Most offer rentals if you’re not ready to buy.)

Duration and frequency: 45–60 minutes, 1–3 times per week

AKT

Equipment: Sneakers (the rest is provided by the studio)

How to do it: AKT takes dance cardio to the next level by combining cardio dance intervals with strength moves. This trendy new workout was developed by trainer Anna Kaiser, who trains celebs. It’s rooted in positivity and designed for all fitness levels and body types.

Expect a mix of classes like dance (dance, toning, and intervals) and bands (with a box, bands, and intervals).

Duration and frequency: 4–5 classes a week

KINRGY

Equipment: None

How to do it: KINRGY is another fun new aerobic workout, this one from Julianne Hough. Expect “a movement experience inspired by the elements.” It’s dance cardio, yes, but it also has plenty of benefits for your mind.

Expect to sweat, but also expect to “feel” your senses and invoke your imagination. Sounds like a workout designed for today’s busy, chaotic world.

Duration and frequency: 45 minutes, 3–5 times a week

Cardio kickboxing

Equipment: Sneakers

How to do it: This high impact workout combines aerobics with boxing and martial arts. After a warmup, you’ll punch, kick, and strike your way through the workout, finishing with core work or strength moves.

Duration and frequency: 60 minutes, 1–3 times per week

Curious whether your favorite workout counts as aerobic exercise? Use this chart to get your answer!

ExerciseYesNoKinda
cardio🏃‍♂️
HIIT🏃‍♂️
running🏃‍♂️
walking🏃‍♂️
cycling🏃‍♂️
Pilates🏃‍♂️
yoga🏃‍♂️
hiking🏃‍♂️
kickboxing🏃‍♂️
lifting weights🏃‍♂️
dancing🏃‍♂️
swimming🏃‍♂️

Aerobics became synonymous with certain types of classes, but so many other forms of exercise also count as aerobic exercise.

“Aerobic classes means with oxygen,” explains Norvell. “This allows the lungs to also benefit from aerobic exercise. Anaerobic means without oxygen. Therefore, the heart and lungs do not have the same strengthening and benefits that it does from aerobic exercise.”

Anaerobic moves “typically last for short bursts or short periods and typically have high intensity,” she adds. They may involve quick starts and stops too.

tl;dr

  • Aerobics is another name for cardio, a type of exercise that uses oxygen to fuel energy demands during exercise.
  • In short, it’s a type of exercise that strengthens your heart and lungs in addition to the muscle groups you’re using during your workout.
  • Running, cardio kickboxing, cycling, swimming, jump rope, and dance are all types of aerobic exercise.