Exercise is pivotal for our well-being, but what exactly qualifies as “moderate” exercise? Public health recommendations advocate for a minimum of 150 minutes of “moderate” exercise per week, with “vigorous” exercise minutes counted double. Yet, discerning what constitutes “moderate” exercise isn’t always straightforward.

Contrary to popular belief, “moderate” exercise isn’t solely about heart rate. While it’s tempting to equate “moderate” exercise with “zone 2” cardio, a heart rate zone terminology, the two concepts aren’t entirely synonymous. Although there’s considerable overlap, “zone 2” cardio represents a range of intensities, similar to “moderate” exercise.

Scientifically, exercise intensity is often measured in metabolic equivalents, or METs, rather than heart rate. METs gauge the amount of energy expended during physical activity. For instance, one MET equals the energy utilized at rest, while activities with higher MET values demand more energy. Notably, MET studies conducted in labs provide insights into the typical MET values associated with various exercises.

According to physical activity guidelines, “moderate” exercise falls within the range of 3 to 6 METs, while “vigorous” exercise is classified as 6 METs or above. For practical purposes, it’s beneficial to consider exercise intensity in terms of activities and their corresponding MET values:

Moderate Exercise (3 to 6 METs):

  • Walking at 3-4 mph
  • Cycling at 50-100 watts
  • Shooting baskets
  • Playing baseball
  • Participating in low-impact aerobics

Vigorous Exercise (6 or more METs):

  • Race walking at 5+ mph
  • Uphill walking
  • Jogging
  • Bicycling at 12 mph or faster
  • Swimming laps
  • Engaging in basketball, soccer, or hockey

While fitness watches can’t directly measure METs, they often employ heart rate zones as a proxy. However, relying solely on heart rate has limitations. Heart rate can fluctuate due to external factors like temperature and stress, making it an imperfect indicator of exercise intensity.

Ultimately, adhering to the guidelines necessitates a general understanding of activity intensity. Walking typically falls under “moderate” exercise, whereas jogging or running leans towards “vigorous.” Biking at a moderate pace and participating in indoor cycling within certain power thresholds also align with “moderate” exercise.

In essence, striving for 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly aligns with achieving recommended physical activity levels. Whether you monitor heart rate or focus on the activity itself, prioritizing consistent movement is key to reaping the health benefits of exercise.