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Things to consider while engaging in different forms of physical activities

The minimum intensity, frequency and duration of different kinds of physical activities must be met as per the guidelines to achieve and maintain optimum health-fitness and ward off the possibilities of certain non-communicable diseases.

Physical activity

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Intensity of Physical Activity

People can engage in physical activity with varying intensities. Some activities are more intense than others because they demand greater amounts of energy. For instance, walking quickly and energetically expends more energy than walking slowly and leisurely.

Commonly, the rates of energy expenditure during physical activity are classified as light, moderate, or vigorous. Multiples of the metabolic equivalent of task (MET) are used to indicate energy expenditure, where 1 MET is the rate of energy expenditure at rest.

A person weighing approximately 75.57 kg (160 pounds) would expend approximately 70 calories per hour while sitting or sleeping.

  • Sedentary

    For people with sedentary lifestyles, who engage in minimal physical activity throughout the day, the MET expenditure is relatively low. Sedentary activities include sitting or lying down for most of the day, such as office work, watching TV, or using a computer.

    The MET value for sedentary activities typically ranges from 1 to 1.5. This means that individuals with sedentary lifestyles generally burn approximately 1 to 1.5 times their resting metabolic rate while performing these activities. To put it into perspective, the resting metabolic rate is the amount of energy expended at complete rest.

  • Light-intensity activity

    For people engaging in light-intensity activities, the MET (Metabolic Equivalent of Task) expenditure is slightly higher than those with sedentary lifestyles. Light-intensity activities generally involve low levels of effort and can include walking at a leisurely pace, light household chores, or casual biking.

    Light-intensity activities typically have MET values ranging from 1.5 to 3.5. Individuals engaging in these activities burn approximately 1.5 to 3.5 times their resting metabolic rate.

    To provide a better understanding, here are some examples of light-intensity activities and their corresponding approximate MET values:

    Walking at a slow pace (2-2.5 mph): 2.0 METs, Light gardening or yard work: 3.0 METs, Easy bicycling (less than 10 mph): 3.5 METs, Cooking or food preparation: 2.0 METs, Light cleaning or dusting: 2.0 METs

    Engaging in light-intensity activities can be beneficial for overall health and well-being. While the caloric burn may not be as high as with moderate or vigorous activities, consistent participation in light-intensity activities can still contribute to maintaining a healthy weight, improving cardiovascular health, and increasing overall energy expenditure.

  • Moderate-intensity activity

    For individuals engaging in moderate-intensity activities, the MET (Metabolic Equivalent of Task) expenditure is higher than those involved in sedentary or light-intensity activities. Moderate-intensity activities require moderate effort and can include brisk walking, swimming, cycling, or recreational sports.

    Moderate-intensity activities generally have MET values ranging from 3.5 to 6.0. This means that individuals performing these activities burn approximately 3.5 to 6.0 times their resting metabolic rate.

    To provide you with a better understanding, here are some examples of moderate-intensity activities and their corresponding approximate MET values:

    Brisk walking (3.5-4 mph): 4.0 METs, Cycling at a moderate pace (10-12 mph): 5.5 METs, Swimming (moderate effort): 5.0 METs, Dancing (moderate intensity): 4.5 METs, Tennis (singles): 6.0 METs

    Engaging in moderate-intensity activities offers various health benefits, including improved cardiovascular fitness, increased calorie burn, enhanced muscle strength, and stress reduction. It is often recommended to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, spread across multiple sessions, to meet the general physical activity guidelines.

  • Vigorous-intensity activity

    Individuals engaging in vigorous-intensity activities experience a higher MET (Metabolic Equivalent of Task) expenditure than those involved in sedentary, light, or moderate-intensity activities. Vigorous-intensity activities require a significant amount of effort and can include activities such as running, fast-paced cycling, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or competitive sports.

    Vigorous intensity activities generally have MET values ranging from 6.0 and above. This means that individuals performing these activities burn approximately 6.0 times or more their resting metabolic rate.

    To provide you with a better understanding, here are some examples of vigorous-intensity activities and their corresponding approximate MET values:

    Running (8 mph or faster): 8.0 METs or higher, Cycling at a fast pace (more than 16 mph): 8.0 METs or higher, High-intensity interval training (HIIT): 8.0 METs or higher, Jumping rope (fast pace): 10.0 METs or higher, Soccer or basketball (competitive play): 10.0 METs or higher

    Engaging in vigorous-intensity activities offers numerous benefits, including increased cardiovascular fitness, improved muscular strength and endurance, enhanced calorie burn, and potential weight loss. It is often recommended to incorporate vigorous-intensity activities into your exercise routine for optimal health and fitness outcomes.

    To ensure your safety and well-being, it’s important to gradually build up your fitness level, properly warm up and cool down, and listen to your body’s signals. If you have any underlying health conditions or concerns, you should consult with a healthcare professional or a fitness expert before engaging in vigorous-intensity activities.

Many adults don’t do any vigorous-intensity physical activity.

[table id=3 /]
Age (Years) Average Maximum Heart Rate 100% Target Heart Rate Zone 50-85%
200 bpm
100-170 bpm
190 bpm
95-162 bpm
185 bpm
93-157 bpm
180 bpm
90-153 bpm
175 bpm
88-149 bpm
170 bpm
85-145 bpm
165 bpm
83-140 bpm
160 bpm
80-136 bpm
155 bpm
78-132 bpm
150 bpm
75-128 bpm

Levels of Physical Activity

There are four stages of aerobic physical activity: inactivity, insufficient activity, activity, and intense activity. This categorization for adults is helpful because these categories relate to how much health benefit an individual receives at a particular stage and how to become more active. The emphasis on aerobic physical activity for these levels does not imply that other forms of activity, such as muscle strengthening, are less essential.

  • Inactive

    “Inactive” in terms of physical activity refers to individuals who engage in minimal or no structured or planned physical activities. They typically have a sedentary lifestyle and do little movement or exercise throughout the day. Inactivity often involves prolonged sitting, lying down, or minimal physical exertion.

    Inactive people may spend most of their time sitting at a desk, watching TV, using a computer, or engaging in activities that require minimal physical effort. Inactivity can have negative effects on overall health and well-being, as it is associated with increased risks of chronic diseases, weight gain, poor cardiovascular health, decreased muscle strength, and reduced mobility.

  • Insufficiently active

    Regarding physical activity level, “insufficiently active” refers to individuals who do not fulfill the recommended guidelines for regular physical activity. These individuals may participate in some form of physical activity but do not meet the recommended duration or intensity for optimal health benefits.

    Insufficiently active individuals may engage in occasional or sporadic physical activity, but they fail to consistently satisfy the minimum requirements for maintaining good health. They may not engage in the prescribed amount of aerobic activity at moderate or vigorous intensities, or they may not engage in muscle-strengthening activities as frequently as recommended.

    Depending on the applicable guidelines, the precise criteria for defining insufficiently active can differ. Not meeting the general physical activity recommendations, which include at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, as well as muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days per week, is a common occurrence.

    Insufficiently active is defined as engaging in some moderate- or vigorous-intensity physical activity but less than 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (MIPA) a week (i.e., less than 22 minutes per day of MIPA) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity-VIPA, i.e., less than 11 minutes per day of VIPA, or the equivalent combination. This level is below the target range for fulfilling the key adult guidelines.

    Insufficient physical activity can still provide some health benefits compared to complete inactivity. To maximize the positive effects on cardiovascular health, weight management, muscle strength, and general well-being, it is essential to meet or exceed the recommended guidelines.

  • Active

    Regarding physical activity level, “active” refers to those who meet or surpass the prescribed guidelines for regular physical activity. These individuals engage in enough physical activity to promote and maintain their health, fitness, and well-being.

    Active individuals routinely engage in various physical activities, including aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises. In general recommendations, active individuals consistently meet or exceed the minimum physical activity requirements consistently meet or exceed the minimum physical activity requirements in general recommendations.

    Depending on the guidelines, the specific criteria for defining an active individual may vary. A common standard is, however, reaching the general physical activity recommendations, which include at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, as well as strengthening activities for the muscles on a minimum of two days per week.

    Being physically active requires 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (MIPA) per week or 22 to 43 minutes of MIPA per day. This level is within the recommended range for adults.

    Active people frequently integrate various of activities into their daily routines, such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, playing sports, strength training, and attending group fitness classes. They prioritize regular exercise, maintain consistent physical activity patterns, and frequently engage in activities beyond the minimums recommended.

    By maintaining an active lifestyle, individuals can enjoy numerous health benefits, such as improved cardiovascular fitness, increased energy levels, better weight management, enhanced muscle strength and endurance, reduced risk of chronic diseases, enhanced mental health, and a higher quality of life overall.

    While physical activity is beneficial, it is vital to listen to your body, avoid overexertion, and balance physical activity with adequate rest and recovery. A consultation with a healthcare professional or fitness expert can aid in the creation of a personalized activity plan based on individual needs, objectives, and underlying health considerations.

  • Highly active

    Individuals who consistently engage in a substantial amount of physical activity, exceeding the recommended guidelines for regular exercise, are considered “highly active” These people maintain a high level of physical activity, frequently exceeding the minimal requirements for optimal health and fitness.

    Extraordinarily active individuals exceed the general physical activity recommendations and engage in a substantial quantity of daily exercise. Their lifestyle frequently revolves around various forms of physical activity and physical fitness.

    While there is no universal threshold for a highly active lifestyle, these individuals typically surpass the minimum recommendations by engaging in moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activities for extended durations and integrating regular muscle-strengthening exercises.

    Highly active is defined as engaging in more than 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity (or more than 43 minutes per day of MIPA). This value exceeds the recommended range for adults.

    Highly active individuals may participate in activities such as:

    Long-distance cardio exercises (e.g., long-distance running, cycling, and swimming), Sessions of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), Participating in athletics or athletic events that are competitive, Engaging in multiple daily exercise sessions, including a variety of physical activities, including weightlifting, yoga, Pilates, and cross-training

    Individuals with high physical activity are frequently devoted to their fitness objectives and place a premium on their health. They may have greater fitness, endurance, strength, and overall athletic performance than those who engage in moderate or insufficient physical activity.

    While being extremely active can provide numerous health benefits, it is essential to maintain a balanced approach to exercise. Important factors in avoiding overexertion and injury include heeding your body’s cues, allowing for adequate rest and recovery, and taking into account your unique requirements and limitations.

    Individuals with specific health concerns or those intending to engage in high levels of physical activity should consult a healthcare professional or a qualified fitness expert to receive individualized guidance and to ensure they engage in activities safely and effectively.

In general, one should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. But if you need to lose weight, you may need to increase both the intensity and level of physical activity.

Also, it depends from individual to individual based on their physical fitness level and age. Your fitness trainer or health expert can recommend you the required level and intensity of PA.

Aerobic Activity

In this kind of physical activity (also called an endurance activity or cardio activity), the body’s large muscles move in a rhythmic manner for a sustained period of time. Brisk walking, running, bicycling, jumping rope, and swimming are all examples. Aerobic activity causes a person’s heart to beat faster, and they will breathe harder than normal.

Aerobic physical activity has three components:

Intensity, or how hard a person works to do the activity. The intensities most often studied are moderate (equivalent in effort to brisk walking) and vigorous (equivalent in effort to running or jogging);

Frequency, or how often a person does aerobic activity; and

Duration, or how long a person does an activity in any one session.

Although these components make up an aerobic physical activity profile, research has shown that the total amount of physical activity (minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity in a week, for example) is more important for achieving health benefts than is any one component (frequency, intensity, or duration). All time spent in moderate- or vigorous-intensity physical activity counts toward meeting the key guidelines.

Muscle-Strengthening Activity

This kind of activity, which includes resistance training and weight lifting, causes the body’s muscles to work or hold against an applied force or weight. These activities often involve lifting relatively heavy objects, such as weights, multiple times to strengthen various muscle groups. Muscle-strengthening activity can also be done by using elastic bands or body weight for resistance (climbing a tree or doing push-ups, for example). These activities maintain or increase the muscle endurance, strength and power.

Muscle-strengthening activity has three components:

Intensity, or how much weight or force is used relative to how much a person is able to lift.

Frequency, or how often a person does muscle-strengthening activity and

Sets and repetitions, or how many times a person does the muscle-strengthening activity, like lifting a weight or doing a push-up (comparable to duration for aerobic activity).

The effects of muscle-strengthening activity are limited to the muscles doing the work. It is important to work all the major muscle groups of the body—the legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.

Bone-Strengthening Activity

This kind of activity (sometimes called weight-bearing or weight-loading activity) produces a force on the bones of the body that promotes bone growth and strength. This force is commonly produced by impact with the ground. Examples of bone-strengthening activity include jumping jacks, running, brisk walking, and weight-lifting exercises. As these examples illustrate, bone-strengthening activities can also be aerobic and muscle strengthening.

Balance Activities

These kinds of activities can improve the ability to resist forces within or outside of the body that cause falls while a person is stationary or moving. Walking backward, standing on one leg, or using a wobble board are examples of balance activities. Strengthening muscles of the back, abdomen, and legs also improves balance.

Flexibility Activities

These kinds of activities enhance the ability of a joint to move through the full range of motion. Stretching exercises are effective in increasing flexibility and thereby can allow people to do activities that require greater flexibility. 

Yoga as an all round physical activity

Asanas from yoga can serve as the best all round package for muscle-bone strengthening, balance and flexibility activities. Yoga is a mind-body intervention and can have multiple benefits as compared to gym or exercise. You can choose from varieties of styles such as hath, Iyenger, power, vikram, vinyasa or ashtanga yoga as per your interest and requirements.

It is always recommended to do intense physical activities or yoga under the supervision of a relevant expert to achieve your desired fitness goals without causing any health complications.

About the Author

Picture of Sanjeev Yadav, M.A. Yoga, P.G. Psych., DNHE
Sanjeev Yadav, M.A. Yoga, P.G. Psych., DNHE

Mr. Sanjeev is a yoga professional specializing in applied yoga, psychology, and human excellence with over more than 8 years of experience as a health and life coach, well-being trainer, and psycho-yogic counselor. He is completing his Ph.D. dissertation in Yoga.

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