Endurance exercise, or aerobic exercise, is one of the four types of exercise; the others include strength, balance, and flexibility. The average person should incorporate all four exercise types into their workout routine. However, they need not all be performed in the same day. Rather, alternating foci can add variety to your exercise regimen.
Endurance exercise keeps the lungs and circulatory system healthy, and enhances overall fitness. Consequently, people who engage in endurance exercise can decrease their risks for many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Outside of clinical supervision, any endurance exercise regimen should have three goals:
- It is aerobic, and it uses major muscle groups repetitively for a sustained amount of time.
- It is performed for 30-60 minutes, 3-5 days a week.
- It is something you enjoy doing regularly.
Let’s look at six types of endurance exercises that can improve your stamina, strength, and overall health.
Walking is simple, free, and flexible. Plenty of walking options exist, including the track, the street, the forest, the mall, and the treadmill. You can vary the intensity of walking to match your fitness level. Other than walking shoes, this exercise does not require any special equipment. (But you can always splurge on walking poles for added stability on rough terrain, if so inclined.) Walking is a good first choice when starting an exercise program. It is also a good choice for exercisers with joint problems.
Ski machines, stair climbers, steppers, and ellipticals
You’ve likely seen these machines everywhere—and for good reason. They can exact a great workout in a small space. Each type of exercise machine, however, has its own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, users with knee or hip problems should avoid stair climbers and steppers because these machines put additional stress on these joints. Furthermore, ski machines necessitate above-average coordination to master.
Importantly, exercise on these machines may be too challenging for the beginner or a person with lower fitness levels; thus, a trial run is important. While on the machine, the user should be able to pass the “talk test,” which means you should be able to speak without difficulty while exercising at moderate intensity.
In one low-powered study involving healthy women aged 18–22 years, those who participated in a 7-week stair-climbing program displayed a decrease in oxygen consumption, heart rate, and blood lactate concentration during a final stair-climbing test compared with control participants. Moreover, HDL cholesterol levels increased in the stair-climbing group.
“A short-term stair-climbing program can confer considerable cardiovascular health benefits on previously sedentary young women, lending credence to the potential public health benefits of this form of exercise,” concluded the authors.
Cycling doesn’t have to be a tour de force at the Tour de France. People at all fitness levels can benefit from this endurance-building intervention. In fact, people who are 50 or more pounds overweight may find cycling on a stationary bike the ideal first exercise option because it can improve cardiovascular health sans the mechanical stress on the back, hips, knees, and ankles secondary to walking. Alternatively, cycling can be switched up with walking to limit pain.
For beginners, non-swimmers, or those of low-exercise tolerance, swimming may not be the best fit. Indeed, with a recommended 30- to 60-minute session, it may be downright dangerous for those who are unable to maintain the appropriate intensity. But for everybody else, swimming is aces. Of note, because swimming concentrates on small upper body musculature and is, by nature, more inefficient than cycling or walking, people with certain heart conditions may not be good candidates for this type of exercise. The buoyancy of water makes water aerobics and water walking good options for people with joint pain.
Running (including jogging) is the most challenging type of endurance exercise. When going for a run, the main advantage of treadmills vs overground running is that treadmills permit various physiological measures to be recorded within a controlled space. For athletes, this allows greater control over performance variables such as running velocity and surface gradient, as well as environmental variables such as ambient temperature, wind speed, and relative humidity.
In one systematic review and meta-analysis of 34 crossover studies, during submaximal treadmill running, oxygen uptake, heart rate, and perceived effort were comparable with treadmill running vs overground running. However, blood lactate concentration was lower with treadmill running. Furthermore, preferred running speeds were slower while runners were on the treadmill vs running overground. Overall, endurance performance was lower among those using the treadmill. Thus, in athletic individuals, nothing beats a daily running al fresco in terms of health benefit.
Like jogging and running, aerobic dance is a great activity for highly fit people. However, those with orthopedic problems, angina, or shortness of breath should not partake.
In one study, researchers compared aerobic dance with treadmill running in 13 aerobic dance instructors. They found that oxygen intake and heart rate were higher with treadmill running, but peak ventilation was similar with both types of endurance exercise. The authors concluded that “for well endurance-trained women, this may result in a lower total workload at maximal intensities. Aerobic dance may, therefore, not be as suitable as running during maximal intensities in well-trained females.”
Remember that when incorporating endurance exercises into fitness routines, you should aim for progress. It may take time to get to a point where 30 continuous minutes of exercise is feasible. The exerciser can always increase distance, time, or difficulty when comfortable. Furthermore, exercises such as running, aerobic dance, and the use of ski machines require a certain level of fitness.