The importance of Aerobic capacity

“Difficulties are just things to overcome.” ― Ernest Shackleton

The Endurance sank amongst Antarctic pack ice in 1915. It forced Shackleton and 5 others to row a modified lifeboat across rough oceans in search of rescue for their remaining crew. Assisted by strong currents they rowed for 16 days covering 1300km, before arriving in South Georgia. From here they crossed mountain ranges and glaciers before finding help at a remote whaling station.  Shackleton could endure more than most.

But what does that mean?

There are two factors that determine our ability to endure. Mental resilience and aerobic capacity. Today we cover the latter.

Beyond impressive feats of performance, why is it important for you and I to improve our aerobic capacity?

Our aerobic capacity is a measure of how well our heart and lungs can deliver oxygen to muscle. It determines how long we can endure an activity or exercise. In our younger years it might determine how far we can run. In our older years it determines our ability to climb stairs. Like strength, aerobic capacity declines with age unless you take steps to improve it.

What is it and how does it work?

For our muscles to work they need energy in the form of ATP.  This energy is derived from either aerobic (with oxygen) or anaerobic (without oxygen) metabolism. Exercise intensity dictates which mechanism will be used and at lower exercise intensities – walking, jogging, cycling – aerobic metabolism is the primary source of our energy.

When you breathe, oxygen is delivered to your lungs where it diffuses into tiny blood vessels and binds to red blood cells.  Your heart pumps the oxygenated blood around the body taking it to where it’s needed most. When running, more blood flows to the legs. Here, the oxygen is used to convert carbohydrate (sugars) and fat into ATP, our “energy currency”. The better your ability to create ATP, the more you can do and the longer you can do it. Conversely, less ATP = less you can do.

So why is it important to be aerobically fit?

Good reason 1:

The fitter you are, the more efficient your body is at absorbing and transporting oxygen. Fat and carbohydrate are more easily converted for energy, and exercise becomes easier. Once our body becomes efficient at using oxygen and accessing our fat stores, we become less fatigued in pursing the activities we want to pursue. Ultimately we can perform the activities we love for longer.

Good reason 2:

A higher aerobic capacity reduces your risk of coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and dementia. It reduces your risk of becoming chronically ill, improves longevity, and helps ensure a more active later life. Read more here on just how important it is.

Importantly, for those that already suffer one of these conditions aerobic exercise can be hugely effective in improving them.

So how do we improve our aerobic capacity?

While not hard, you do need to make your day a little harder.

For those currently inactive:  the biggest change you can make is to start walking most days.  A brisk 30-45 minute walk 4-5 times per week will provide enormous benefits to your health and improve your aerobic capacity.

For those already active but wanting to ensure they have a well-balanced exercise program:  Regular low level aerobic training should be incorporated into your weekly regime 3-4 times per week. Activities such as cycling, jogging, or walking uphill (or on an inclined treadmill) are ideal. The key is to maintain your heart rate at about 60-70% of your maximum for about 30-45 minutes. (Max HR calculator for those unsure.)

However a good rule of thumb is to perform the exercise at a level at which you can breathe through your nose, have a conversation, or pay attention to a podcast or audiobook.

For those already exercising at a high level, I recommend you read Inigo San Millan’s work on Zone 2 training and how it works to improve your VO2 max. Many high level amateur athletes make the mistake of training at too high an intensity too frequently. Lower intensity training will do wonders for both health and performance.

If you need more guidance, or have pain or other underlying health concerns preventing you from exercising, then book a session with one of the team. Appointments can be made online, by email, or on 02079371628

Difficulties are just things to overcome.

Keep moving,