Measuring Physical Activity Intensity

Relative Intensity

The level of effort required by a person to do an activity. When using relative intensity, people pay attention to how physical activity affects their heart rate and breathing. The talk test is a simple way to measure  relative intensity. As  a rule of thumb, if you’re doing moderate-intensity activity you can talk, but not sing, during the activity. If you’re doing vigorous-intensity activity, you  will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

Absolute Intensity

The amount of energy used by the body per minute of activity. The table below lists examples of activities classified as moderate-intensity or vigorous-intensity based upon the amount of energy used by the body while doing the activity.

Moderate Intensity
  • Walking briskly (3 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking)
  • Water aerobics
  • Bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour
  • Tennis (doubles)
  • Ballroom dancing
  • General gardening
Vigorous Intensity
  • Race walking, jogging, or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Tennis (singles)
  • Aerobic dancing
  • Bicycling 10 miles per hour or faster
  • Jumping rope
  • Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing)
  • Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack

 

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