Using Metabolic Equivalent for Task (MET) for Exercises

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The metabolic equivalent for task (MET) is a unit that estimates the amount of energy used by the body during physical activity, as compared to resting metabolism. The unit is standardized so it can apply to people of varying body weight and compare different activities. MET can be expressed in terms of oxygen use or kilocalories (what you commonly think of as calories).

At rest or sitting idly, the average person expends 1 MET, which equals:

  • 1 kilocalorie per kilogram of body weight times minutes of activity
  • 3.5 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight times minutes of activity

MET in Relation to Activity

By using MET, you can compare the exertion required for different activities. At 2 MET you are using twice the calories per minute that you do at rest. The number of calories burned each minute depends on your body weight. A person who weighs more will burn more calories per minute.

The harder your body works during any given activity, the more oxygen is consumed and the higher the MET level.

  • Under 3 MET: Light-intensity activities
  • 3 to 6 MET: Moderate-intensity aerobic physical activities
  • Over 6 MET: Vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activities

In studies comparing different activities, the use of oxygen is measured since the body uses oxygen to expend calories. The Compendium of Physical Activities lists MET for hundreds of activities and is updated periodically.

Moderate-Intensity Physical Activity

Moderate-intensity physical activity is a level of body effort that is active but not strenuous.

Characteristics of moderate-intensity physical activity include:

  • Causes an increase in breathing and/or heart rate
  • Results in 3 to 6 metabolic equivalents (MET) of effort
  • Burns 3.5 to 7 Calories per minute (kcal/min)

Examples of moderate physical activities include things like walking outside or on a treadmill at a speed of about 3 mph, shooting a basketball, biking at a speed of about 10 mph or slower, doing water aerobics, ballroom dancing, or playing doubles tennis.

Your activity level is probably moderate if you are actively moving, potentially lightly sweating, and breathing harder than usual but can still carry on a normal conversation.

Vigorous-Intensity Physical Activity

Vigorous intensity physical activity burns more than 6 MET. During vigorous activity, you will sweat more, breath harder, and use more oxygen. At most, you will be able to utter only a couple of words between breaths.

Examples of vigorous physical activity include jogging and running (either outdoors or on a treadmill), playing tennis, swimming laps, playing basketball or soccer, or doing calisthenics like push-ups and jumping jack. Any of these activities can be done with varying levels of effort. The key for vigorous-intensity physical activity is that the activity must be performed with intense effort. You will definitely know you are exercising.

Vigorous intensity physical activity may be performed less frequently than moderate-intensity physical activity, as it is more demanding on the body.

A Word From Verywell

To get benefits for your health, you should get a variety of aerobic physical activity each week. The minimum suggested is either 150 minutes at moderate intensity or 75 minutes at vigorous intensity, or a combination of the two spread out through the week. These activities need to be performed for at least 10 minutes at a time. More is better, so it is good to find activities you enjoy to add to your healthy lifestyle.

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