Maybe you turn to your older brother for advice, saying, "I was a couch potato all summer -- and now I look like one! What can I do?"
Your brother responds, "It's simple! You have to move around more and get your body in condition. Turn off the computer and go for a walk. Swim laps. Ride your bike. If it's raining, run in place while you watch TV."
So you listen -- and take action, walking the half mile to the bus stop in the mornings and afternoons instead of catching a ride with a friend. You run the track at PE even when the coach gives you free time. And you sign up to be on the school's swim team, which practices every afternoon. You strengthen your cardiovascular system with aerobic exercise.
By Thanksgiving, you've lost the extra weight without changing your diet at all. You feel energetic and stronger, and you feel good about yourself. As a bonus, your clothes fit better. Your jeans are even a bit loose. Isn't it great to be active again?
Understanding Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise includes physical activity that increases your heart rate and keeps it higher for a certain period of time. It boosts the amount of oxygen delivered to your heart and muscles so they use oxygen more efficiently and stay healthier.
Aerobic exercise keeps you super-fit -- and healthy. It helps you maintain a normal weight, reduces your "love handles," and even eases stress, so you smile more and complain less. Studies show that increased stress hormones may be the cause of belly fat. And what's the best stress reliever? Exercise!
Regular aerobic exercise also releases endorphins (happy hormones), brain chemicals that boost your mood naturally. At the same time, aerobic exercise reduces the risk of some types of cancer.
Are Weight-Bearing Exercises Aerobic?
Many aerobic exercises are also "weight-bearing" -- the kind where you stand on your feet and exercise. Weight-bearing aerobic exercises include walking, aerobics, dancing, tennis, climbing stairs, and running.
Weight-bearing exercise stimulates the cells that make new bone and boost bone strength. This is especially important for teenagers because your bone mass peaks between the ages of 25 and 30. Adolescence is the time to build the strongest bones possible.
Getting Started with Aerobic Exercise
To start an aerobic exercise program, just put on your running shoes and start walking. It's fun -- and free. You can walk in your neighborhood, at a local mall, at school on the track.
If walking is not your thing, grab your bike and start riding. Or swim laps. Or do all of these! There are enough choices to let you do a different one each day for a month -- or longer. See the list below for some other exercises and school sports that build your cardiovascular endurance.