Aerobic Exercise: Definition and What it is

Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT

Aerobic Exercise Definition and Meaning

Aerobic exercise is a type of physical activity that increases your heart rate and breathing, which in turn increases how much oxygen the body consumes. Oxygen supplies your muscles with energy (aerobic means “with oxygen”). 

Aerobic exercise generally uses large muscle groups in a repetitive and rhythmic way (think running, cycling, or taking a high-intensity dance class) to strengthen the heart and lungs, improving the efficiency of the body's cardiovascular system. 

Aerobic Exercise Examples

There are many kinds of aerobic exercises, which can be adjusted to meet one’s fitness level. This includes everything from walking, jogging, and hiking to swimming, cycling, and dancing.  

Group fitness classes, such as step aerobics or cardio kickboxing, also fall into this category. Any type of physical activity that gets your heart rate up — that includes playing with your kids or grandkids — can count as aerobic exercise. Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute.

Some aerobic exercises include interval training, in which you alternate between short bursts of intense activity with intervals at a lower intensity. Aerobic exercise can also involve circuit training, in which a series of exercises are performed one after another in a certain order (like in a bootcamp-style class).

Benefits of Aerobic Exercises

There are many benefits of aerobic exercise, which impact various aspects of health and well-being. Some of the key benefits include: improved cardiovascular health (aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and lungs), increased endurance (allowing for improved performance in all physical activities), higher metabolism (which can assist in weight management and weight loss), and disease prevention (aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of numerous health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and some types of cancer).

Because aerobic exercises are typically weight-bearing activities, they also support bone health, helping to lower the risk of osteoporosis. There are cognitive benefits, too. Aerobic exercises are known to improve mood and decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as enhance brain function, including mental sharpness and memory.  

Aerobic Exercise: A Hinge Health Perspective

As our Hinge Health care team likes to say, movement is medicine. That includes aerobic exercise. Exercise helps you regain strength, flexibility, and energy. When we move, our bodies create substances that help our joints, discs, and even our lungs stay lubricated so they move smoothly. By making muscles and joints work harder than usual, aerobic exercise conditions them to loosen and improves mobility and strength.

When you’re in pain, it’s tempting to take it easy and limit movement to avoid further damage. This is unlikely to help — quite the reverse in fact. Not moving enough often causes a cascade of factors that can amplify pain. Movement and exercise encourages blood and oxygen delivery to tissues for healing, keeps muscles strong and limber, and helps reduce pain. Exercise is actually one of the best ways to retrain an overprotective pain system, reminding it that movement is normal and safe. Another bonus is that exercise releases endorphins, which can actually block pain signals from reaching the brain.

Still, we know it isn’t always so easy to get moving, especially if you’re dealing with pain from an injury (like a sprained ankle) or a chronic condition (like osteoarthritis). Physical therapy can aid in easing pain when you prefer to exercise with some support. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. 

Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.


  1. Patel, H., Alkhawam, H., Madanieh, R., Shah, N., Kosmas, C. E., & Vittorio, T. J. (2017). Aerobic vs anaerobic exercise training effects on the cardiovascular system. World Journal of Cardiology, 9(2), 134. doi:10.4330/wjc.v9.i2.134

  2. Mulcahey, M. (2019, December). Aerobic Exercise. OrthoInfo. 

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