Losing stubborn body fat and getting into one’s best possible shape may require at least some aerobic activity. The range of aerobic methods available and the different ways in which to engage in cardio are many – enough to cause confusion for those wanting to shed excess weight to reveal their hard-won muscles.
Question is: what are the best methods of aerobic exercise? Is there a perfect way to lose fat through cardiovascular means, and if so, what is it? Aerobic activity by its very nature requires fat to be used as a primary fuel source, with carbohydrates and protein being used to a smaller extent. Therefore it is obvious that in order to lose fat, some degree of aerobic work will need to be done.
Aerobic activities constitute any form of exercise that is repetitive, long, and hard enough to challenge the heart and lungs. However, the type of aerobic work needed for fat loss is a subject open to much debate.
Aerobic activities (typically done at a moderate intensity, although higher intensity aerobics has been shown burn more calories) constitute any form of exercise that is repetitive, long, and hard enough to challenge the heart and lungs to use oxygen as a fuel source to sustain the body over a longer period (15 to 20 minutes or longer).
Aerobic activities can include:
Rowing, running, walking, cycling and variations on these (the commonality these methods share is that they use the body’s largest muscle groups). The aim of this article is to determine the best forms of aerobic exercise for fat burning, while explaining the reasons why these methods are effective.
With aerobic exercise, oxygen, fats and carbohydrates combine to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the basic fuel source for all cells. However, given that fat is a more efficient fuel source for aerobic activity – as the body has greater fat stores (which are more easily mobilised in the presence of oxygen) compared to carbohydrates and proteins—it will be used preferentially during aerobic activity, which lasts longer than the short-burst glycogen-using anaerobic activity.
So, aerobic activity done at a moderate intensity (50-75 percent of Maximal Heart Rate [MHR], or within the mythological fat burning zone) appears to burn more actual fat, but does it help with greater fat losses over the longer term? Some researchers suggest not. It appears that exercising aerobically at a higher percentage of MHR (75% or more) burns more in the way of total calories, which adds up to greater fat total losses. (Max Heart Rate is easily calculated by subtracting your age from 220.)
As long as the exercise is performed within the aerobic zone (using oxygen), and does not become anaerobic in nature (instead drawing from carbohydrates for fuel), the higher the intensity the better. If more total calories are used, as opposed to a comparatively small amount of fat—as is the case with low intensity aerobics—these calories are less likely to be stored and fat losses will be much greater. With higher intensity aerobics, the body ultimately burns a smaller percentage of fat calories from a much larger number of total calories, so in the end more fat calories will be used.
This is not to say that low-intensity aerobics are worthless. As explained later, they do have their place. However, if one is to burn the largest degree of body fat in the shortest amount of time, higher intensity aerobics seem to be the superior method. Let us turn now to the benefits of high intensity versus low intensity aerobics.
Benefits of Aerobic Exercise
All forms of aerobic training will provide many similar benefits, while high intensity and low intensity methods (although both within the so-called fat burning aerobic zone) have benefits specific to their respective functions.
To determine the exact intensity needed to benefit from a specific aerobic method, first it is important to determine lower and higher end target heart rates (THR). The low end of the target zone is 55% of your MHR. The high end of the target zone is 80% of your MHR. Use the calculator above to determine these numbers (or just subtract your age from 220, then multiply the result by .55 and .80, respectively.) Aerobic exercise (regardless of intensity) will help to strengthen the muscles.
Aerobic exercise (regardless of intensity) will help to: Strengthen the muscles involved in respiration, to assist lung function. Increase the total number of red blood cells in the body, to enable greater oxygen facilitation throughout the body. Strengthen the heart muscle, which will improve resting heart and pumping efficiency. Reduce stress and tension, and increase mental well-being. Increase circulation throughout all areas of the body. Increase self-esteem. Lower-to-moderate intensity aerobic activity (50-75 percent of MHR) will: Typically provide less impact on the joints, making it ideal for the obese and/or unfit. Burn fat directly (as opposed to total calories) and can be done for a longer period. Can be used as active recovery from more intensive training systems.