Vigorous Physical Activity and Your Health

Vigorous physical activity - running on a treadmill
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Vigorous physical activity is an intense exercise that requires more than 7 METs of effort. MET stands for Metabolic Equivalent for Task. It is a unit used to compare the amount of oxygen used by the body during physical activity, or the "working" metabolic rate, to the "resting" metabolic rate. It is a way to compare, among people of different weights, the amount of exertion required for different activities.

At rest, your body uses one MET for basic functions, like breathing. During the vigorous physical activity, breathing and heart rate are rapid as the body exerts itself. Vigorous activity burns 8 or more calories per minute, depending on weight and fitness level. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publishes guidelines on physical activity for Americans, since, as the department notes, "substantial health benefits are gained by doing physical activity." For children and teens, ages 6 to 17, the department recommends at least one hour of physical activity every day. Of those 60 minutes, most of the activity should be either moderate or vigorous (vs. light activity). At least three days of the week, kids' activity should be vigorous instead of moderate.

For adults, ages 18 to 65, the department recommends the following, in bursts of at least 10 minutes at a time, spread out across the week:

  • 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week
  • 1 hours and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity every week
  • Or, an "equivalent combination" of these (say, 1 hour of moderate activity and 45 minutes of vigorous activity; vigorous activity is "worth" about twice as much as moderate)

However, that's just the minimum recommendation. You can reap "additional health benefits," says the department, by doubling up on your weekly activity goals. So to get more benefits, aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of vigorous physical activity, or the equivalent. That's just 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

The recommendations remain the same for adults over 65 and children and adults with disabilities, provided they have no limiting conditions. People in these groups should talk with their doctors about physical activity options.

For healthy pregnant women, moderate activity is also recommended, in the same amount as non-pregnant women: 150 minutes per week. Pregnant women who have already been getting vigorous exercise regularly prior to pregnancy can continue their intense activity (but should discuss their workout plans with their health care providers).


Examples of a vigorous physical activity include jogging and running; biking (fast or uphill); in-line skating; boxing or martial arts; tennis; swimming laps; playing basketball, soccer, or other sports; or doing calisthenics, like push-ups and jumping jacks. The key is that these activities must be performed with intense effort. If you are breathing hard and sweating, you are probably in the intense/vigorous zone. And of course, moderate activity is still worthwhile. You just need more of it.

Also Known As: Vigorous intensity exercise, high-intensity exercise