What Does Moderate Exercise Mean, Anyway?

Last updated: 10-26-2020

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What Does Moderate Exercise Mean, Anyway?

If you talk to a doctor or read physical fitness guidelines, you’re going to come across the phrase “moderate-intensity exercise.” You can easily calculate it for yourself. 

Exercise physiologist Christopher Travers, MS, explains what moderate exercise really means and how you can implement it into your lifestyle.

Moderate-intensity activity is usually made up of exercises that get your heart rate up to 50% to 60% higher than its rate when you are at rest.

“Different groups have slightly different recommendations,” says Travers. “But in general, they advise 150 minutes per week, or about 30 minutes five days a week, of moderate-intensity activity. In the exercise world, we consider this anything that gets your heart rate up to 50 to 60% higher than your resting heart rate.”

What does that activity look like? All of the following fit the moderate definition of exercise:

Other activities you might not even think of as exercise fit the “moderate” definition, too. These may include: 

“Ten minutes is the minimum amount of time you need to get the benefits of cardiovascular exercise,” he says. “I often tell patients to start with 10 to 20 minutes of any activity and work your way up. If you’ve been living a sedentary life, or if you have medical conditions that limit your activity, you need to ease yourself into fitness and see how your body responds.”

When you’re crafting an overall fitness plan, be sure to incorporate strength training, too. Strength training helps with joint flexibility, increases your muscle mass and increases bone density. Not only that, but your body burns calories more easily, which in turn helps with weight control. If you don’t know where to start with a fitness plan, talk to your doctor or dietitian who can help recommend exercises to help get you started on your fitness journey.

A simple way to tell if you’re in the moderate zone is by using the talk test. 

“When exercising at moderate intensity, you should be able to talk to others without gasping for air,” says Travers. “Speaking will take a little more effort than usual, but you should be able to carry on a conversation.”

However, if you want to be more scientific, you can start by defining your resting heart rate. You can do this by taking your pulse when you first wake up in the morning. Doctors and exercise specialists use the Karvonen formula to figure out your target heart rate for exercise. To find your target heart rate, start by calculating the following:

For example, a 50-year-old woman has a resting heart rate of 70. She wants to exercise at 50% intensity — the low end of the moderate-intensity range of 50% to 60%. The formula looks like this:

“If you’re interested in using formulas and heart rate monitors, I encourage their use,” he says. “A doctor or exercise specialist can even help you get started. If you prefer to skip the math and just incorporate the exercises above or others into your life, and you’re healthy enough to do so, you are still on the right track.”


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