7 Reasons to Add Old-School Aerobics to Your At-Home Exercise Routine

published Aug 19, 2021
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Woman doing strength training cardio aerobic dance exercises.
Credit: Getty Images / Prasit photo

Everything old is new again, and that applies to workouts too. If you missed it the first go-around (or just plain miss it), there are plenty of reasons to rethink your exercise program to include old-school aerobics.

Originally named for the biological term for using oxygen, the word “aerobics” was once synonymous with celebrities like Richard Simmons and his popular “Sweating to the Oldies” series of VHS tapes. But before you decide that aerobics is passé, consider this expert advice on why old-school aerobics is still a great form of at-home exercise — and how to make it happen.

Have fun looking the part. 

The ’80s were a great time for music — and memorable fashion. Though you don’t need to spray your hair with Aqua Net and pouf your bangs (although go all in if you’d like!), consider having fun with your outfit. 

“I would wear funky thong leotards (embarrassing now!) while watching Jane Fonda VHS videos since I was about 12 years old,” reminisces Jennifer Sobel, the owner and creator at The Belly Dance Solution and Feminine Fire in San Francisco, California. “Jane Fonda was my hero. My passion for these at-home aerobic workouts ultimately inspired me to get certified as a group fitness instructor.” A bonus: Investing in fun workout clothes can serve as motivation on its own. So scour Etsy and Ebay for never-worn, old-stock attire, or order a neon headband, scrunch down your socks, and get ready to conquer your morning workout.

Yes, dance counts as exercise.

Tap into what pro dancers already know: Dancing is an incredibly effective (and enjoyable) form of movement. While heading out for a night of dancing is fun, it can also be intimidating. But moving in the privacy of your own home is low pressure. You can feel free to dance your heart out with guided movements that you may or may not be able to adapt to the dance floor. Either way, have fun while getting your heart rate up. 

“Sometimes just a good dance session can be aerobic conditioning,” says Holly Fields, the owner of Fitness by Holly in New Castle, Virginia, who started taking Hi/Lo and step classes while in college. “We had a big aerobic room in Peters Hall at Radford University, and one of my fellow commercial fitness major friends was an instructor. I loved it!” Nowadays, she adds cardiovascular conditioning, which includes aerobics, into exercise routines for her clients.

Stick with an interactive routine.

Half of the battle of finding a regular exercise routine is sticking with it over time. “It is absolutely beneficial if it is an activity that they love to do,” says Fields. “You will not be consistent with anything if you dread it.”

Laura Flynn Endres, the founder and head trainer at Get Fit Done in Los Angeles, California, echoes this sentiment. “It’s so fun! And when you’re having fun, you’re more likely to stick with it,” she says. “It’s like getting all the benefits of exercise without really feeling like you’re suffering through your workouts.” In short, aerobics is enjoyable, which means that time will pass faster, and you may even look forward to exercising. 

Additional equipment isn’t necessary.

With aerobics, you just need a willing spirit and a way to watch YouTube videos, pop in a DVD, or work out to a vintage VHS tape. A good The SLR Life, which offers virtual fitness classes.

That means it’s easy to adapt moves to your needs, abilities, and fitness levels. “The expression of aerobics is all about arm moves and styling it out,” says Rector, who suggests that people who need to avoid jumping for whatever reason stay grounded and focus on moving their upper bodies. The same applies to other areas of the body. 

Keep your body healthy without needing to focus on “gains” or other milestones. 

Everyone has their reasons for exercising, and that often includes keeping your body functioning happily. “Aerobics is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise,” says Endres, who started teaching aerobics in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1991. “It really gets your heart rate up, so it’s ideal for improving heart and lung health.” 

Sobel agrees. “Doing aerobics will improve your cardiovascular health, increase your circulation, enhance your immunity and help you to be functionally fit,” she says. She also advises those with limited mobility to move their core and other body parts to engage muscles and keep circulation flowing. (Always check with a doctor to make sure that a new type of movement is right for you before you start!)

Adapt it to your skill level. 

“The easy-to-follow steps not only work your body but your mind too,” Rector says. So whether you join a community class or go solo at home, you can adjust the moves according to your fitness level. 

Through her work as a personal trainer, Endres modifies workouts according to her clients’ needs. “It’s easy to adapt aerobics to be easier or harder, so that makes it accessible for most people,” she says. For a more manageable routine, include low-impact moves, schedule frequent breaks, and have music with a moderate tempo. Those who desire higher-impact training can incorporate jumping jacks and include burn sections, such as holding squats or incorporating highly repetitive moves. 

Experience a former era in a new — or familiar — way.

For many, aerobics is a fun throwback to the 80s or 90s, while others might never have tried it before. “I think we need to shift the way we view exercise and aerobics and expand it to include anything that gets your heart rate up and sustains it for a period of time,” says Sobel.

In fact, you may be doing aerobics already and not even realize it. This is because many modern-day exercise programs incorporate purposeful moves set to music, which aerobics is all about. Aerobic routines often go under different labels, such as dance cardio, and different modalities such as barre and HIIT classes can also offer bodyweight-only adjustments.

No matter what it’s called today, old-school aerobics is beneficial and is seeing a resurgence. “Everything old is new again, and that’s true with fitness,” Endres says. “There are new and shiny methods all the time, but when they aren’t new and shiny anymore, we often long for the good old days of exercise.” So if you crave a flashback or want to switch up your workout routine, aerobics may offer precisely what your mind and body need.