Many experts say you should calculate your target heart rate and take your pulse frequently during aerobic exercise to make sure you are getting an adequate cardiovascular workout, and many gadgets are available to help you do this. I do not find this to be necessary, and I feel it can make workouts less fun. If exercise is not fun or if you do not see benefits from it fairly quickly, your motivation to continue may erode. If a period of aerobic exercise does not leave you feeling that you have labored, with your heart beating faster and your breathing stimulated, you have not done it vigorously enough. If it leaves you collapsed on the ground painfully gasping for breath, you have overdone it. I think most people can figure out the right level of intensity without taking their pulse, consulting tables and charts, and worrying about whether they are in the target heart rate zone.
Making aerobic exercise more fun and less boring is your greatest challenge, because if you fail to do this, you are likely to let your program slide before it becomes established as a good habit. Let me tell you about some of the ways I've found to make workouts more fun. One is to exercise outdoors in interesting surroundings. If you run, walk, or cycle in a visually interesting environment, your concentration on the sights around you will take a lot of the drudgery out of that thirty minutes. Another is to exercise with a companion. Aerobic time spent with a friend goes much faster than the same time spent alone.
If you are exercising indoors, experiment with doing it to music. Having pleasant, stimulating sounds to attend to can be as helpful as beautiful sights, with the added advantage of rhythm to synchronize your movements. Of course, you can take an mp3 player and headphones along when you go outside. I have listened to books on tape while exercising and have gotten so absorbed in the narrative that I have gone past thirty minutes without noticing. If you have an exercise machine at home, try reading while using it or put it in front of the television or turn on the stereo. I know some people who listen to foreign language lessons while pedaling their stationary bikes.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of play in relation to exercise, whether aerobic or nonaerobic. Ideally exercise should be fun, not drudgery, and you should be able to do it without being conscious of the passage of time. If you are always counting the minutes till you can stop, you are not having fun. Young children will wrestle playfully for hours, developing strength, coordination, and agility while getting a terrific aerobic workout and having the time of their lives. It is a pity that more grown-ups don't do the same. I try to give grown-ups permission to play in this way and have even taught workshops in noncompetitive (that is, fun) wrestling. It beats pedaling a stationary bike any day. Do not get locked into dull routines in classes and clubs with fancy equipment. Use these facilities if they help you develop good exercise habits, but also find ways to increase your activity that are creative and playful, using the resources of your own environment.
Read more articles and information on healthy exercise in Dr. Weil's Exercise and Fitness section.