Though there always seems to be someone willing to debate whether men or women have an easier or harder lot in life, one area where men are inherently at a disadvantage is heart disease risk. That’s right; “being male” is one of the top risk factors for heart disease, the number one cause of death in the United States. Moreover, men over the age of 40 are at an even greater risk.
Before you start feeling defeated because your sex and age are uncontrollable, the good news is that another major risk factor for heart disease is a sedentary lifestyle, which is absolutely a modifiable risk factor you can do something about. Regularly performing aerobic exercise — with the goal of accumulating 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week — has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of heart disease. Plus, with so many great options for aerobic exercise, most guys can find some type of enjoyable (or at least workable!) cardio exercise. Need some inspiration and ideas for your cardio workouts? Keep reading for a roundup of the best aerobic exercises for men.
What Is Aerobic Exercise?
Aerobic exercise is an exercise that conditions the cardiovascular system and increases your heart rate but is performed “with oxygen.” In other words, your heart rate and breathing rate do indeed increase, but you’re not totally breathless while you work out. Generally speaking, the aerobic exercise zone is 70-80% of your maximum heart rate.
For example, if your maximum heart rate is 180 bpm, aerobic exercise occurs at a heart rate range of 126-144 bpm. Though not entirely accurate, you can ballpark your maximum heart rate using the formula ‘220 minus age in years.’
Benefits of Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise has many health benefits, including the following:
- Reducing blood pressure
- Strengthening the heart and lungs
- Improving the elasticity, capacity, and density of blood vessels
- Burning calories and supporting weight loss
- Regulating blood sugar levels
- Increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels
- Lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels
- Improving sleep
- Reducing symptoms of asthma
- Improving mood
- Reducing anxiety
- Strengthening the immune system
- Reducing the risk of lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes, and atherosclerosis
Best Aerobic Exercises for Men
There is no single “best” aerobic exercise for men; rather, any form of sustainable physical activity that increases your heart rate to an appropriate zone will serve you well. That said, it’s advisable to vary the types of aerobic exercise you do to prevent overuse injuries and fitness plateaus. It’s also a good idea to perform aerobic exercises that use different muscle groups. For example, pairing cycling with swimming is a better way to strengthen your legs, arms, and core than pairing cycling with stair climbing.
Walking is certainly the simplest aerobic exercise, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. Depending on your fitness level, walking at a leisurely pace may not be vigorous enough to get your heart rate elevated enough to be getting an aerobic workout, but walking at a brisk pace or up an incline are two great ways to ramp up the intensity. You can also consider wearing a weighted vest or carrying a heavy pack. If you’re not walking on a treadmill where you can check your heart rate, consider wearing a fitness watch or heart rate monitor for your fitness walks to ensure you’re pushing yourself hard enough to get a good aerobic workout.
Hiking is essentially just the wilderness form of walking, but it is often even more conducive to aerobic workouts because of the inherent challenges of the terrain. Again, wearing a pack can increase the intensity along with the number of calories you’ll burn on your hike.
Whether you hop on a stair climber exercise machine or head to a local stadium or skyscraper to hoof it up real stairs, stair climbing is a sure-fire way to boost your heart rate and get a challenging aerobic workout. You’ll also strengthen your glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, and core. Consider wearing a heart rate monitor to ensure you’re staying within the aerobic zone because stair climbing can easily push you up into near-maximal heart rates.
Elliptical machines are among the most popular pieces of cardio exercise equipment because they offer many of the fitness benefits of running while minimizing the impact on your joints. You can adjust the resistance and incline to vary your workouts and challenge your body as your fitness improves. Be sure to use the elliptical machines with movable arms to ensure you’re getting your heart rate up into the aerobic zone and getting a total-body workout.
Though most of us don’t have easy access to a boathouse on a lake or river, you can get an excellent aerobic workout on a rowing machine. Rowing is said to use 86% of the muscles in your body, so it’s as good a total-body strengthening workout as it is an aerobic or cardio one.
Jogging and running are among the best aerobic workouts for men because they get your entire body working and have been repeatedly demonstrated to improve the health of your heart and lungs, reduce the risk of many lifestyle diseases, improve mood, and support weight loss. Running is fairly accessible, with a low barrier of entry so long as you have access to a pair of running shoes and a safe road, track, trail, or treadmill.
Cycling can take on many forms, from mountain biking and outdoor cycling to spinning and stationary bike workouts indoors. No matter how you pedal, cycling is a fantastic low-impact aerobic exercise for men. It strengthens your heart, lungs, and entire lower body, and you can easily vary your routine, resistance, and cadence to keep your fitness progressing.
Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing
If you live in a climate with cold, snowy winters, make Mother Nature’s playground your workout space with aerobic snow sports like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Cross-country skiing is a low-impact, total-body workout since you also rely heavily on your upper body to propel you forward with ski poles. Snowshoeing can also be performed with or without poles but is a great way to get your heart pumping and lungs panting.
Exercises like jumping jacks, mountain climbers, burpees, bodyweight squats, and push-ups are excellent ways to increase your heart rate and get your blood pumping. Completing calisthenics in a circuit fashion — one to the next with minimal rest — is the best way to keep your heart rate elevated throughout the duration of the workout.
It’s important to note that for a true “aerobic workout,” you don’t want to be working at as vigorous of intensity as you would during high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Aerobic exercise is generally considered to be capped around 75% of your maximum heart rate. Beyond that, you are working more in anaerobic zones, as demonstrated by feeling more breathless, or “without oxygen.” For aerobic exercise, keep the intensity more moderate and consistent.
Jumping rope is a fantastic cardio workout. It can be extremely vigorous and may skyrocket your heart rate out of the aerobic zone if you push the pace. However, if you jump rope at a moderate rate, you’ll reap all the bone-building and strengthening benefits of jumping rope along with the cardiovascular benefits of aerobic exercise.
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