For an activity to qualify as aerobic exercise, it must increase up your heart rate and use your major muscle groups. Walking, jogging, swimming laps, bicycling or riding an exercise bike, cross-country skiing (on skis or a skiing machine), rowing and using a stair climber all qualify. Singles tennis, soccer, racquetball or basketball can qualify as well, provided you're moving enough to increase the heart rate for a period of time. Slow-moving sports like bowling or croquet don't qualify and neither do sports that mix short, hard sprints with long rest periods, like touch football.
You should pick an activity that you can do initially on a nonstop basis for at least 20 minutes, with an eventual goal of 60 minutes at a time. The most important factor in choosing a regular aerobic activity is to pick something you enjoy. More than half of all new exercisers end up quitting within a year, primarily because exercise becomes a chore.
You can get an effective aerobic workout and actually have fun. Just pick any activity you like, as long as you move at a steady, relaxed pace, breathing comfortably. Aerobic exercise is an opportunity to enjoy the feeling of healthy movement, content in the knowledge that you're making your body healthier with every step.
To help choose your own activity, start by listing all the types of exercise or sports that you've enjoyed in the past, along with any new sports or activities you've always wanted to try. Then rank them on an "enjoyment scale" from one to 10. If you can't think of any, list the activities that you dislike the least. Take the top-ranked activities and try one for a few days (15 minutes at a time). You should be able to find at least one form of exercise that you like or can easily tolerate.
It's also essential to have access to a place where you can exercise. For walkers or runners, such places usually mean a park or recreation area, a neighborhood with good sidewalks or a covered shopping mall for the winter months. If you're a swimmer, you'll need to find a year-round pool where you can do your laps. For cycling, you'll want to map out a few low-traffic loops near your home. If you find you enjoy working out on stationary equipment such as an exercise bike, stair climber, rowing machine or treadmill, you'll need to find an area community center or an affordable health club that has the equipment you prefer.
Variety is important. It's best to choose a few different aerobic activities this is referred to as cross-training. Mix it up swim one day, run another, cycle another, etc. A variety of activities allows you to exercise different muscle groups at varying intensities, and it keeps your exercise routine fresh.
Whatever option you follow, take your time and choose with care: Your aerobic exercise program needs to be designed so it can last a lifetime!
Moderate aerobic activities:
Easy walking (20 minutes per mile), easy cycling (on a bicycle or exercise bike), gardening, a slow-paced tennis game, golf (using a hand cart or carrying your own clubs), downhill skiing, volleyball, touch football, basketball (shooting baskets), social dancing, pushing a stroller, raking leaves, washing and waxing your car, washing windows or floors
Vigorous aerobic activities:
Brisk walking (15 minutes per mile or faster), lap swimming, fast cycling (on a bicycle or exercise bike), jogging, a fast-paced game of singles tennis, rollerblading, competitive racquetball, aerobic dance, water aerobics, cross-country skiing (on snow or a stationary skiing machine), jumping rope, stairwalking (on a machine or actual steps), basketball (playing a competitive game), wheeling yourself in a wheelchair at a steady pace.
The heavier you are, the more calories you'll burn while exercising. For example, a 165-pound person burns six calories per minute walking at a brisk pace. On the other hand, a 220-pound person burns eight calories per minute at the same speed.