What Counts as Moderate Intensity Exercise?

moderate intensity exercise

In the vast landscape of healthcare advice and online fitness resources, the term “moderate-intensity exercise” frequently emerges as a cornerstone of physical well-being. Whether you’ve sought guidance from a healthcare provider, scoured the internet for fitness tips, or found yourself in discussions about improving your health, chances are you’ve encountered this phrase.

It’s a recommendation often bestowed upon individuals in various life stages, from expectant mothers to beginners embarking on their fitness journey or those mindful of their health history. But amidst the plethora of advice, you might find yourself pondering: What exactly constitutes “moderate-intensity exercise”? And how can you be certain that you’re reaping the benefits of your efforts?

Christopher Travers, MS1, an exercise physiologist, steps in to demystify the concept of moderate exercise and offer practical insights on its implementation into your lifestyle. Join us as we delve into the realm of moderate-intensity exercise, uncovering its significance and unraveling the mystery behind its transformative potential.

What is Moderate Intensity Exercise?

What is Moderate Intensity Exercise?

Moderate-intensity exercise forms a crucial component of a balanced physical activity regimen, endorsed by both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is the central government agency determining national health policies, and the American Heart Association (AHA), which is a nonprofit organization.

According to the HHS Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, any activity that elevates your heart rate qualifies as moderate exercise. This encompasses everyday tasks such as brisk walking, yard work like raking, or household chores like mopping floors. The AHA specifies that the signifying feature of moderate intensity is that your breath becomes harsher than normal breath as you can still have a conversation, or as you called it, the “talk test” on that level.

So, what exactly constitutes moderate-intensity activity? It typically involves raising your heart rate to about 50% to 60% higher than its resting rate without reaching a point of complete exhaustion. Engaging in activities like brisk walking or steady-paced cycling fits the bill perfectly. These exercises offer a balance between effectiveness and manageability, allowing you to maintain a healthy level of activity without undue strain.

Related: How Fast Do You Walk?

Christopher Travers, an esteemed exercise physiologist, sheds light on the recommended dosage of moderate-intensity exercise: aiming for 150 minutes per week, equivalent to around 30 minutes of activity on most days. This guideline aligns with the overarching principle of elevating your heart rate to the prescribed range, ensuring optimal health benefits without overexertion.

Examples of Moderate Activities

There are lots of ways to do moderate exercise, so you can find something that fits your interests and lifestyle. You could go for a brisk walk, do some light jogging, or try something fun like water aerobics or dancing.

Consider the following examples, each falling within the moderate-intensity range and offering a gateway to improved fitness and well-being:

  • Walking two miles in 30 minutes.
  • Biking five miles in 30 minutes.
  • Swimming laps for 20 minutes.
  • Running 1.5 miles, equivalent to 2.42 kilometers, in 15 minutes.
  • Engaging in water aerobics for 30 minutes.
  • Playing volleyball for 45 minutes.
  • Participating in basketball for 20 minutes.
  • Jumping rope for 15 minutes.
  • Climbing stairs for 15 minutes.
  • Engaging in household tasks like washing your car for 45 minutes to an hour, gardening for 30 to 45 minutes, or raking leaves for 30 minutes.
  • Dancing for 30 minutes.

Christopher Travers says even just 10 minutes of exercise at a time can help your heart a lot. Starting with shorter sessions and working your way up is a safe way to get into exercise, especially if you haven’t been active before or if you have health issues.

It’s important to include strength training in your exercise routine, along with cardio. Strength training helps your joints and muscles, makes your bones stronger, and helps you burn more calories, which is good for managing your weight.

Related: Why Is Cardiovascular Fitness Important?

How Much Moderate Exercise Do You Need?

How Much Moderate Exercise Do You Need?

To reap the full benefits of moderate exercise, it’s essential to adhere to recommended guidelines provided by reputable health organizations such as the Department of Health and Human Services2 and the American Heart Association. Both entities advocate for a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week, totaling at least two hours and 30 minutes per week.

It’s important to note that each session of exercise should last for a minimum of 10 minutes to be considered effective. This flexibility allows individuals to break down their daily 30-minute allocation into shorter, more manageable intervals, spread across the day.

As your fitness level improves and you become more accustomed to regular exercise, strive to gradually increase your moderate aerobic activity time. Aim for a target of 300 minutes (five hours) per week, if possible, to maximize the health benefits derived from moderate exercise. 

Measuring Moderate Exercise

Assessing the intensity of your exercise regimen is crucial for maximizing its effectiveness and ensuring safety. Moderate exercise strikes a balance where your heart rate and breathing noticeably increase, yet you can still comfortably converse without feeling overly strained or breathless. Here’s how you can gauge and measure moderate exercise intensity using various methods:

Heart Rate Monitoring

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the range of a moderate intensity heart rate (50% to 70%) refers to your maximum heart rate. Determining your maximum heart rate based on your age allows you to establish your target heart rate range for moderate exercise. Make use of heart rate charts, calculators, or devices such as heart rate monitors, fitness trackers and smartwatches for monitoring your heart rate while exercising and keeping the intensity level within the moderate range.

If you’re interested in investing in a fitness watch to track your activities then you should go for our tested and reviewed fitness watches by our affiliate link. This Fitbit fitness watches offer advanced features such as GPS tracking, heart rate monitoring, and customizable workout metrics to enhance your walking experience and achieve your fitness goals.

MET (Metabolic Equivalent for Task)

MET is a measure of the amount of oxygen the body consumes during physical activity. Moderate physical activity typically corresponds to an exertion level of 3 to 6 METs, where your breathing and heart rate increase moderately and you burn about 3.5 to 7 calories per minute. Adjustments are made based on individual weight and fitness level. Understanding the MET scale allows for the comparison of activity exertion across different individuals and activities.

Related: Metrics for Tracking Calories You Burn Walking Per Mile

Perceived Exertion

The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion3 Scale (RPE) offers a subjective assessment of your perceived effort during exercise. Ranging from 6 (no exertion) to 20 (maximum exertion), an RPE of 11 to 14 indicates moderate activity. By tuning into how your body feels and aligning it with the RPE scale, you can effectively monitor and regulate your exercise intensity.

By incorporating these measurement techniques into your fitness routine, you gain valuable insights into the intensity of your workouts, empowering you to tailor your exercise regimen to suit your fitness goals and capabilities effectively.

Benefits of Moderate Exercise

Engaging in regular moderate exercise offers a plethora of benefits that extend far beyond physical fitness. From reducing the risk of chronic diseases to enhancing cognitive function and supporting mental health, the advantages of moderate exercise are numerous and significant.

  • Reduces the risk of major medical conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and dementia.
  • Improves sleep quality and helps manage sleep disorders.
  • Supports better brain function, including memory, focus, and processing of information.
  • Aids in weight loss or maintenance efforts.
  • a risk reduction.
  • Alleviates symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.

How to Get More Moderate Exercise

How to Get More Moderate intensity Exercise

Incorporating moderate activities into your daily activities may seem like hard work, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some simple yet effective strategies to boost your moderate exercise levels:

  1. Embrace 10-Minute Bursts: Begin with brisk 10-minute walks. Start at an easy pace for a couple of minutes, then gradually increase your speed for the next 10 minutes. Utilize work breaks, lunchtime, or pre- or post-work slots for these brisk walks.
  2. Explore Walking Workouts: Whether indoors at a mall or gym track, outdoors, or on a treadmill, walking workouts offer versatility. Focus on maintaining good posture and technique to achieve a brisk pace. As you grow comfortable with 10-minute brisk walks, gradually extend your duration. Spice up your routine with variations like intervals of faster walking, brief jogging spells, or incline challenges.
  3. Diversify Your Activities: If brisk walking alone doesn’t elevate your heart rate sufficiently, consider alternative activities such as cycling, swimming, or using an elliptical trainer. These exercises offer opportunities to attain a higher heart rate and delve deeper into the moderate-intensity zone.

What Doesn’t Count

Moderate exercise is one of the most therapeutic doses, but not all workouts provide the same. Simply strolling for less than 10 minutes doesn’t qualify as moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Even if your pedometer boasts over 10,000 steps daily, unless you engage in brisk-paced sessions lasting 10 minutes or more, you’re falling short of your exercise target.

Many activity trackers, pedometers, and smartwatches monitor continuous movement at a pace deemed suitable for achieving moderate to vigorous-intensity exercise. You can buy all in one from our affiliate link mentioned above. They tally this as “active minutes” and track calories burned during exercise. It’s a handy tool to gauge if you’re getting adequate exercise with the appropriate intensity.

  1. Christopher Travers, MS ↩︎
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ↩︎
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ↩︎

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