Regular aerobic exercise is the most important part of the active fitness environment outlined in the One in a Billion project. This kind of exercise is essential for good heart health, weight control and the prevention of various types of degenerative disease. Cardiovascular fitness also has many psychological benefits such as improving mood, self-confidence and sleep, and alleviating stress, anxiety and depression. It really is an essential form of exercise that the body simply has to have.
The VO2 max score described in a previous post is the most accurate measure of cardiovascular fitness and should be checked at least once a year. My employer has this excellent policy of giving this test to all employees once a year and I’m sure that this single test saves a truckload of money through reduced sick-days and increased productivity.
From my experience, you need about four hours of aerobic exercise per week in order to attain near-optimum fitness. Four hours per week might sound like a lot, but in reality it is only 3.6% of the time that you are awake and almost 10 times less than the time the average American spends in front of the TV. Once again, the only thing that stands in your way is our self-destructive cultural conditioning.
Even though getting 4 hours of aerobic exercise per week is not hard, you can make it even easier for yourself by switching to human power for much of your transportation needs. For example, cycling to work gives me about two hours of cardio every week. In addition to that, I do 1-2 hours per week of active running at rugby practice, about one hour of cross-country skiing and the occasional cycling trip up the mountain.
The key here is that these are all activities which I really enjoy. With the exception of the cycle trips to work, my cardio activities also have a very nice social aspect which makes them even more fun. All in all, I can confidently say that my cardiovascular fitness happens completely automatically and requires absolutely no willpower to maintain.
This consistent 4-5 hours of aerobic exercise per week has given me a VO2 max score of 62 ml/min/kg which is about the average for a professional athlete and quite exceptional for a computer nerd such as myself. I have therefore successfully proven to my scientist-self that an intelligent active fitness environment can maintain professional fitness levels without requiring any willpower whatsoever.
This, I think, is quite a revelation and I really wish that more people would invest the little bit of upfront effort required to construct a solid active fitness environment and reap these great benefits.