What's moderate intensity exercise?

Most people are aware of the current physical activity guidelines, but many are still confused about what moderate intensity physical activity is. Moderate intensity can be defined in absolute or relative terms. Understanding absolute intensity is simpler, so let's start with that.

Absolute moderate intensity has been defined by public health experts as any activity that expends 3.5 to 7 calories per minute. A classic example of moderate physical activity is walking at a 15-20 minute mile pace. Other examples of moderate intensity activities are:

  • Brisk walking
  • Doing water aerobics
  • Bicycling at 5 to 9 mph on level terrain, or with few hills; or stationary bicycling using moderate effort
  • Playing doubles tennis
  • Yoga
  • Golf, wheeling or carrying clubs
  • Playing Frisbee
  • Ballroom dancing
  • Pushing a lawn mower
  • General gardening, such as raking the lawn, bagging grass, digging, hoeing, or weeding while standing or bending
  • Shoveling light snow
  • Actively playing with children

Many of these activities are not what we normally think of as exercise. This is great news because you can accumulate your recommended moderate activity by doing housework, gardening, recreating or other lifestyle physical activities.

Of course, people's fitness levels vary. An easy stroll in the park may raise one person's heart rate enough to be considered moderate intensity. For another person the same stroll may not be considered moderate intensity because it does not raise their heart rate enough. That's where relative intensity comes in. Your heart rate will increase and you may break a sweat when exercising at moderate intensity. A simple way of determining whether you are exercising at a moderate level is the talk test. This test is quite easy. If you are doing moderate intensity activity you will be able to talk, but not be able to sing.

Using relative intensity as a guideline is helpful for those who are new to physical activity, and who may not be able to sustain an activity at the absolute moderate intensity. You can start at whatever intensity is moderate for you using the talk test, and increase intensity as your fitness levels improve.


For more information about physical activity intensity check out these sites: