Aerobic exercise is any type of cardiovascular conditioning. It can include activities like brisk walking, swimming, running, or cycling. You probably know it as “cardio.”

By definition, aerobic exercise means “with oxygen.” Your breathing and heart rate will increase during aerobic activities. Aerobic exercise helps keep your heart, lungs, and circulatory system healthy.

Aerobic exercise differs from anaerobic exercise. Anaerobic exercises, such as weightlifting or sprinting, involve quick bursts of energy. They’re performed at maximum effort for a short time. This is unlike aerobic exercises. You perform aerobic exercises for a sustained period of time.

Read on to learn more about aerobic exercises you can try at home and at the gym. And remember, always talk to your doctor before beginning a new aerobic exercise routine.

Cardiovascular exercises can be done at home. There are many you can do with little to no equipment, too. Always warm up for 5 to 10 minutes before starting any exercise.

Jump rope

Equipment: gym shoes (sneakers), jump rope

Benefits: Jumping rope helps develop better body awareness, hand-foot coordination, and agility.

Safety: Your jump rope should be adjusted for your height. Stand with both feet on the middle of the rope and extend the handles to your armpits. That’s the height you’re going for. If it’s too long, cut or tie it to avoid tripping on the rope.

Duration and frequency: 15 to 25 minutes, 3 to 5 times per week

Following a jump rope circuit is a great indoor or outdoor activity, though you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of space. Your circuit routine should take 15 to 25 minutes to complete.

If you’re a beginner:

  1. Start by jogging forward as you swing the jump rope over your head and under your feet. Do this move for 15 seconds.
  2. Next, reverse your direction and jog backward as you continue to swing the jump rope. Do this move for 15 seconds.
  3. Finish your set by doing a hopscotch jump for 15 seconds. To do this move, jump rope in place, and as you jump, alternate between jumping your feet out to the sides and then back to the center, similar to how you’d move them while doing jumping jacks. Do this move for 15 seconds.
  4. Rest for 15 seconds between sets.
  5. Repeat 18 times.

If you’re an intermediate exerciser, you can perform the moves for 30 seconds and rest for 30 seconds between sets. The advanced circuit should be performed for 60 seconds at a time, followed by 60 seconds of rest.

Aerobic strength circuit

Equipment: gym shoes (sneakers), sturdy chair or couch for dips

Benefits: This exercise increases heart and cardiovascular health, builds up strength, and tones major muscle groups.

Safety: Focus on proper form with each exercise to avoid injury. Keep your heart rate at a moderate level throughout. You should be able to carry on a brief conversation during this exercise.

Duration and frequency: 15 to 25 minutes, 3 to 5 times per week

This aerobic circuit is designed to get your heart rate up. Perform the following strength exercises for 1 minute:

Then jog or march in place for 1 minute for your active rest. This is one circuit. Repeat the circuit 2 to 3 times. You can rest for up to 5 minutes between circuits. Cool down afterward with some light stretching.

Running or jogging

Equipment: running shoes

Benefits: Running is one of the most effective forms of aerobic exercise. It can improve heart health, burn fat and calories, and lift your mood, just to name a few.

Safety concerns: Choose well-lit, populated running routes. Let someone know where you’ll be.

Duration and frequency: 20 to 30 minutes, 2 to 3 times per week

If you’re a beginner, run for 20 to 30 minutes twice a week. Your pace should be conversational during the run. You can alternate between 5 minutes of running and 1 minute of walking to start. To stay injury-free, always stretch after your run.

Walking

Equipment: gym shoes (sneakers)

Benefits: Walking daily can reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression.

Safety: Walk in well-lit and populated areas. Choose shoes that offer good ankle support to reduce your risk for injury.

Duration and frequency: 150 minutes per week, or 30 minutes 5 days a week

If walking is your main form of exercise, aim to get 150 minutes per week. This can be broken down into 30 minutes of walking 5 days a week. Or, walk briskly for 10 minutes at a time, 3 times each day.

You can also use a fitness tracker to keep tabs on how many steps you take each day. If your goal is to walk 10,000 steps a day, start with your base (current amount you walk) and slowly up your daily step count. You can do this by increasing your daily steps by an extra 500 to 1,000 steps a day every 1 to 2 weeks.

So, once you’ve identified your base, add an extra 500 to 1,000 steps. Then, 1 to 2 weeks later, increase your daily step count by an additional 500 to 1,000 steps.

Your local gym is a great place to get in some aerobic exercise. They probably have equipment like treadmills, stationary bikes, and elliptical machines. There may be a pool for you to swim laps in, too.

If you aren’t sure how to use a type of exercise equipment, always ask a professional or trainer for assistance.

Swimming

Equipment: pool, swimsuit, goggles (optional)

Benefits: Swimming is a low-impact exercise, so it’s good for people prone to or recovering from an injury or living with limited mobility. It can help you tone your muscles and build strength and endurance.

Safety: Avoid swimming alone and, if possible, choose a pool with a lifeguard on duty. If you’re new to swimming, begin by enrolling in swim lessons.

Duration and frequency: 10 to 30 minutes, 2 to 5 times a week. Add 5 minutes to your swim time each week to increase your duration.

If your gym has a pool, try swimming as aerobic exercise. It’s a nonimpact workout, so it’s a good choice if you’re prone to injury. You’re also increasing your heart rate, toning your muscles, and building strength and endurance — all without adding additional strain to your body.

You can start by swimming laps using one stroke, such as freestyle. As you swim more, add additional strokes. For example, you could do 1 to 4 laps of freestyle followed by 1 to 4 laps of breaststroke or backstroke.

If you get tired, rest on the side of the pool between laps. Always follow the safety instructions and guidelines of the pool where you swim.

Stationary bike

Equipment: stationary bike

Benefits: This low-impact exercise can help develop leg strength.

Safety: Ask a trainer at the gym for help adjusting the bike so that the seat is the correct height. This will help reduce your risk for injury or falling off the bike.

If you’re biking at home, a general rule is to adjust the bike seat height to maintain a 5- to 10-degree bend in your knee before reaching full extension. Doing so reduces compression on your knee joint. It’s not recommended to fully extend your knee while peddling on a stationary bike.

Duration and frequency: 35 to 45 minutes, 3 times per week

Riding a stationary bike is another option for low-impact cardio. Stationary bikes are a good cardiovascular workout, help you develop leg strength, and are easy to use. Many gyms and workout studios offer spin classes, which use stationary bikes. But you can still benefit from a stationary bike workout without taking a class.

After stretching and warming up by cycling at an easy rhythm for 5 to 10 minutes, increase your pace to 15 miles per hour and aim for 20 to 30 minutes of steady cycling. Cool down for 5 minutes. Stretch to finish.

Elliptical

Equipment: elliptical machine

Benefits: Elliptical machines provide a good cardiovascular workout that’s less stressful on the knees, hips, and back compared to the treadmill or running on the road or trails.

Safety: Look forward, not down. Use the handlebars if you feel unsteady or to help you get on and off the machine.

Duration and frequency: 20 to 30 minutes, 2 to 3 times per week

The elliptical machine may seem intimidating at first, but it’s easy to use once you get the hang of it. After warming up, keep your posture upright while you use your legs in a pedal motion to move the machine. Look forward the entire time, not down at your feet. Keep your shoulders back and abdominal muscles engaged. Cool down and exit the machine to stretch.

Increase the resistance on the machine for a more challenging workout.

If you don’t like exercising on your own, a class can provide a supportive and encouraging environment. Ask the instructor to show you proper form if you’re new. They can help you modify the exercises if you’re a beginner, if necessary.

Attend group classes at your local fitness center 2 to 3 times per week to start. You can always go more frequently later on if you enjoy the workout.

Cardio kickboxing

Equipment: gym shoes (sneakers)

Benefits: Kickboxing is a high-impact exercise that builds strength and endurance. It may also reduce stress and improve your reflexes.

Safety: Drink plenty of water throughout the class. Take a break if you feel dizzy.

Duration and frequency: 60 minutes, 1 to 3 times per week

Cardio kickboxing is a mix of martial arts, boxing, and aerobics. Your class may start with a warmup of jogging, jumping jacks, or strengthening exercises, such as pushups. Then expect a series of punches, kicks, and hand strikes for the main workout.

There may be core or strengthening exercises at the end. Always finish your workout with a cooldown and stretch. Drink plenty of water throughout the class.

Zumba

Equipment: gym shoes (sneakers)

Benefits: Zumba is beneficial for heart health, improves coordination, tones your entire body, and may help relieve stress.

Safety: Drink lots of water during the class. Take a break if you feel tired or dizzy. You may want to wear shoes that provide good ankle support if you’re prone to ankle injuries.

Duration and frequency: 60 minutes, 1 to 3 times per week

If you like to dance, Zumba is a fun choice for an aerobic workout. After warming up, your instructor will instruct the class through easy-to-follow dance moves set to upbeat music. You’ll finish with a cooldown and stretch.

Shoes are required. Drink plenty of water throughout the class. You can always take a break and rejoin if you get tired.

Spin class

Equipment: stationary bike, cycling shoes (optional), padded bicycle shorts or pants (optional)

Benefits: Spin classes build strength and improve muscle tone and cardiovascular endurance.

Safety: If your new or need a refresher, ask the instructor to help you set up the stationary bike. Lower your resistance if you get tired, or take a break if you feel lightheaded.

Duration and frequency: 45 to 60 minutes, 1 to 3 times per week

Unlike a leisurely bike ride, a spin or cycle class will get your heart rate up. It may include resistance and climb (incline) portions for maximum training benefits. This will help you build strength and tone your muscles. Some classes require cycle shoes that you “clip” into the bike. You can usually rent these at your facility.

Most spin classes are 45 to 60 minutes long and include a warmup, cooldown, and stretch. Bring water with you to the class. If you’re new, you can reduce the resistance on the bike and peddle lightly for a break if you get tired.

The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise five or more days each week. That can be broken up, though. For example, you can take three, 10-minute walks throughout the day.

You should also add in two or more anaerobic strengthening sessions each week that focus on major muscle groups. If you’re new to exercise, see your doctor. They can assess your health and recommend a fitness routine that’s safe and effective for you.