Aerobic exercise comprises innumerable forms. In general, it is performed at a moderate level of intensity over a relatively long period of time. For example, running a long distance at a moderate pace is an aerobic exercise, but sprinting is not. Playing singles tennis, with near-continuous motion, is generally considered aerobic activity, while golf or two person team tennis, with brief bursts of activity punctuated by more frequent breaks, may not be predominantly aerobic. Some sports are thus inherently "aerobic", while other aerobic exercises, such as fartlek training or aerobic dance classes, are designed specifically to improve aerobic capacity and fitness. It is most common for aerobic exercises to involve the leg muscles, primarily or exclusively. There are some exceptions. For example, rowing to distances of 2,000 meters or more is an aerobic sport that exercises several major muscle groups, including those of the legs, abdominals, chest, and arms.
Which one you choose is a personal choice. They are not intended to compete with each other but rather to provide options and maybe even complement each other. For instance, the Surgeon General's recommendation may be more practical for individuals who are unwilling, or unable, to adopt the more formal ACSM recommendation. Of course, there's no downside to working out regularly with aerobic exercise and also becoming more physically active as per the Surgeon General (take more stairs, mow the lawn by hand, park far away from the store and walk), so combining them might be a good decision.
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How can you know if you are working in the right intensity? Using an RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) chart can help you to determine the appropriate intensity. The scale uses a 1 to 10 rating system. One is very light, such as walking to the refrigerator for a glass of milk. Ten would be a very significant level, representing maximal exercise. Ten would be indicative of not being able to take another step without fear of collapse. It is not recommended for anyone to work at a rate of 10 without strict supervision by a healthcare provider. Moderate intensity is the level of exercise that is most recommended, and can be determined by a rating between a 3 and a 5.
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