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Aerobic Exercise & Nutrition Connection

Have you ever wondered what exactly aerobic exercise does for your body? Or how that cheeseburger you just ate will affect how your body feels during exercise? This article discusses how aerobic activity positively affects one's heart, bones, endurance, mood, and metabolism. In addition, we discuss the connection between nutrition and aerobic exercise, and tips to improve aerobic performance.

I am not a runner. I prefer strength training activities over running anyday, but I know that aerobic exercise is good for my body. What exactly is aerobic exercise though, and please let there be another way of getting it other than running on a treadmill!

Aerobic or cardiovasuclar exercise uses oxygen and large muscles to overload the heart and lungs, causing them to work harder than they would at rest. Examples of aerobic exercise ("cardio") include, but are not limited to: walking, jogging, running, sprinting, dancing, basketball, soccer, football, jumping rope, swimming, stair climbing, biking, skating, hopping, skipping, etc. In addition to being fun, aerobic exercise strengthens the heart, improves bone strength, improves cardiovascular endurance, improves mood and self esteem, increases metabolism and decreases body fat. Not only does aerobic exercise positively affect our bodies, it is fun too!

Looking at aerobic exercise from a nutritional standpoint, when digested, carbohydrates break down into glucose, which is the primary fuel for aerobic exercise. Refined & high-sugar products (white breads & pasta, cakes, & sweets) provide a short-lived boost of energy, but do not provide sustained energy to the body. When seeking lasting energy sources, choose nutrient-dense foods that supply long-lasting energy (whole grains, beans, vegetables & fruits.)

Let's break down the benefits of aerobic exercise further and look at how nutrition plays a role.

1. Aerobic Exercise strengthens the heart muscle and decreases resting heart rate.

Aerobic exercises requires oxygen to burn the fuel (calories) that provides energy for physical activity. Exercises increases blood flow to the heart, causing the heart to pump blood to the body faster. The heart is a muscle; the faster & harder it pumps, the stronger the heart becomes. Making the heart work harder & faster during exercise increases it’s efficiency to pump blood to the body, allowing the heart rate at rest (sitting or sleeping) to decrease (or not have to work as hard to pump blood to the body.) High-fat diets cause arteries to harden & thicken with plaque, making the heart work harder to pump blood throughout the body. Choosing lean meats, low-fat milk products, 100% whole grains, & plenty of fruits & vegetables keeps the body’s arteries plaque-free & prevents the heart from being overworked.

 2. Aerobic Exercise improves bone strength

Bones are alive, & in a constant state of change. Exercises increases the rate of production of “osteoblasts” (cells that make new bone.) Muscles attach to bone; exercising your muscles forces your bones to become stronger as muscles become stronger. In addition to exercise, choosing low-fat milk products like yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, & milk provide the body with calcium to keep bones strong. Choosing low-fat milk products minimizes the fat in our diets that contributes to the hardening and thickening of arteries.

3. Aerobic Exercise improves cardiovascular endurance.

By increasing the strength of your heart, it can work at a higher rate (exercise longer & harder) before becoming fatigued. Increasing endurance allows your body to be more efficient in delivering nutrients & oxygen to the body. Foods from the grains group are the main source of energy that allow the body to maintain prolonged aerobic exercise. Without fuel, the body cannot perform physical activity.

 4. Aerobic Exercise Improves mood and self esteem

Aerobic activity causes the body to release endorphins which lessen physical & mental pain. Think about how you feel after a vigorous workout? Happy & satisfied, right? Meeting exercise goals & challenges can boost self-confidence & self-esteem. Eating a variety of foods from all five food groups (Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, Dairy, and Protein) keeps your body energized & functioning at its best.

 5. Aerobic Exercise increases metabolism and decreases body fat

The body uses energy (calories from food) to exercise. Eating more calories than the body needs creates an excess of calories. Excess calories leads to excess weight. Expending more calories than the body takes in as food, leads to a calorie deficit (weight loss.) Exercise is an effective way to expend calories & maintain a healthy weight. Eat nutrient-dense foods (whole grains, beans, fruits & vegetables) to get the nutrients you need, with less calories, sugar, salt & fat. Stay healthy & feel full on a smaller amount of food.

The best part of aerobic exercise is that it can be free, and just about anyone can find some sort of cardiovascular activity they enjoy! Not everyone wants to be a runner, but anyone can be an aerobic exerciser!

Sources (accessed July 15, 2010)

Kohrt, Wendy M., Susan A. Bloomfield, Kathleen D. Little, Miriam E. Nelson, and Vanessa R. Yingling. "Physical Activity and Bone Health." Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 36.11 (2004): 1985-996. Www.acsm.org. Nov. 2004. Web. 15 July 2010. <http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2004&issue=11000&article=00024&type=fulltext>.

Your Guide To Physical Activity and Your Heart. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/phy_active_brief.pdf

http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/index.html

Benefits of Physical Activity. http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_benefits/en/index.html

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