What is Moderate Intensity Aerobic Exercise?

Man exercising outdoors on a bikeAerobic exercise involves continuous activity that will increase your heart rate and maintain it at a higher rate for a sustained period of time, such as for 20-60 minutes. An intensity that is considered ”moderate” can be roughly estimated to be activity that is strenuous enough to cause a slight but noticeable increase in breathing and heart rate. Hard enough to break a sweat, although not so hard that you can’t comfortably carry on a conversation. If you can sing and maintain your level of effort, you’re probably not working hard enough. If you get out of breath quickly, you’re probably working too hard, especially if you have to stop and catch your breath.

According to the American Heart Association’s exercise guidelines, an adult walking at three miles per hour on a flat surface is expending about 3.3 METs, which is the low end of moderate intensity.  Light intensity exercise is less than 3.0 METs; moderate intensity is 3.0 to 6.0 METs; and vigorous activity is more than 6 METs.

Another more precise method of estimating moderate intensity would be to monitor your heart rate. Activity at 60 to 70% of the maximum heart rate is considered moderate intensity exercise, by some experts.  (Other authorities use different ranges and methods of measurement.)

  • 220 (beats per minute) minus age = maximum heart rate. 
  • then multiply 60% times the maximum heart rate to calculate the lower end of the target heart rate
  • and multiply 70% times the maximum heart rate to calculate the upper end of the target hart rate 

For instance:

  • A 60-year-old woman exercising at 60% intensity would use the following calculation:
  • 220 - 60 = 160 (maximum heart rate)
  • 160 X 60% = 96 (target heart rate)
  • 96 is her target heart rate (the rate at which she should strive for during her exercise)

To calculate her target heart rate range for moderate intensity exercise, make an additional calculation using the intensity level of 70%:

  • 160 x 70% = 112
  • So, 96 to 112 is the target heart rate for a 60-year-old who wishes to exercise at a moderate intensity

Aerobic activities include walking briskly, bicycling, using a stationary bicycle, swimming, running, jogging, stepping machine, climbing stairs, vigorous dancing, ice skating, roller skating, aerobics (regular or low impact) cross-country skiing, rowing and playing racquetball or tennis.

Note: A few high blood pressure medications lower the maximum heart rate and thus the target zone rate. If you’re taking such medicine, contact your physician to find out if you need to use a lower target heart rate.

It’s always best to check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program, and start slowly with aerobic activities or muscle strengthening exercises that are less intense at first. Beginners might want to start with as little as three 10-minute walks a day, most days of the week. People who are younger and more fit might want to aim for as much as 60 minutes a day of moderate intensity exercise.

Read more about the Benefits of Exercise and How to Get Started 

Calculate your BMI (Body Mass Index)

Sources: “Physical Activity” from MedLine Plus
Sources: American Heart Association

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