What Is Moderate Exercise?

Women power walking exercising on sunny path in autumn park
Hero Images / Getty Images
Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Many physical activity guidelines suggest that regular, moderate exercise is important for health and wellness. Getting the minimum amount of moderate activity per week can help prevent disease, boost mood, support weight loss (or maintenance), and more. So understanding what moderate exercise is and how to measure it is valuable for your well-being.

What Is Moderate Exercise?

"Anything that gets your heart beating faster" counts as moderate exercise, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Moderate-intensity cardio exercise includes brisk walking, raking the yard or mopping floors, and playing tennis with a partner.

The American Heart Association (AHA) adds that, when doing moderate exercise, you should be breathing harder than if you were inactive, yet still be able to speak. So, using the talk test is a good way to monitor whether you're at a moderate intensity.

Benefits of Moderate Exercise

Getting moderate exercise regularly can:

  • Reduce the risk of major medical conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and dementia
  • Improve sleep and sleep disorders
  • Support better brain function (memory, focus, and processing of information)
  • Help with weight loss or maintenance
  • Improve bone health
  • Reduce depression and anxiety symptoms and other mental health symptoms

How Much Moderate Exercise Do You Need?

The Department of Health and Human Services and AHA both give the same prescription for moderate exercise: 30 minutes a day for five days a week, or a total of two hours and 30 minutes per week.

Physical activity needs to continue for at least 10 minutes to be considered a session of exercise. So you can break up your 30 daily minutes into two to three shorter sessions, each at least 10 minutes long.

As you build your ability to exercise, aim to get even more moderate activity. If you can boost your moderate aerobic exercise time to 300 minutes (five hours) per week, you will have likely enjoy even more health benefits.

Measuring Moderate Exercise

A moderate level of activity noticeably increases your heart rate and breathing rate. You may sweat, but you are still able to carry on a conversation. You can talk, but you can't sing. You feel you are exercising, but you are not huffing and puffing. You can use a couple of different scales to measure your exercise intensity.

Heart Rate

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a moderate-intensity heart rate zone as 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate. A person's maximum heart rate varies by age. Use a heart rate chart or calculator to determine yours.

To measure your heart rate mid-exercise, you can take your pulse or use a heart rate monitor, an app, a fitness tracker, or a smartwatch. This helps ensure that you are staying at a moderate intensity (not working too hard or taking it too easy).

MET

The term "MET" is an abbreviation for "Metabolic Equivalent for Task" and refers to the amount of oxygen the body uses during physical activity. By assigning METs to an activity, we can compare the amount of exertion an activity takes, even among people of different weights.

During moderate physical activity, your breathing and heart rate become more rapid and your body burns about 3.5 to 7 calories per minute. The actual number burned depends on your weight and fitness level.

For reference, your body uses 1 MET for basic functions, like breathing. When you get to 7 METs of effort, your physical activity is considered vigorous. So the spectrum is:

  • 1 MET: At rest
  • 2 METs: Light activity
  • 3-6 METs: Moderate activity
  • 7 or more METs: Vigorous activity

Perceived Exertion

You can also check your activity level using the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion scale (RPE). Using this scale involves monitoring how you feel about your activity level.

At one end of this 14-point scale, which starts at 6, is absolute stillness. At the other (20) is sprinting as hard as you can. An RPE between 11 and 14 is considered moderate activity.

  • 6: No exertion (sitting still or sleeping)
  • 7-8: Extremely light exertion
  • 9-10: Very light exertion
  • 11-12: Light exertion
  • 13-14: Somewhat hard exertion
  • 15-16: Heavy exertion
  • 17-18: Very heavy exertion
  • 20: Maximum exertion

Examples of Moderate Exercise

There are many activities that are generally counted as moderate-intensity exercise. Choose a few that appeal to you and work on adding them to your weekly routine.

If You Have Mobility Challenges

If you are not able to use your legs, you can achieve moderate intensity by using a manual wheelchair or a handcycle (ergometer), in addition to swimming or water aerobics. If you can use your legs but you don't tolerate walking or jogging, try bicycling or swimming.

What Doesn't Count

An easy walk of under 10 minutes doesn't count as moderate-intensity aerobic activity. You may accrue over 10,000 steps per day on your pedometer, but unless you do some sessions of 10 minutes or more at a brisk pace, you haven't met your daily exercise goal.

Many activity monitors, pedometers, and smartwatches track continuous movement at a pace they consider to be right for achieving moderate-intensity exercise to vigorous-intensity exercise. They report this as "active minutes" and exercise calories burned. It is a good way to see if you are getting enough exercise of the right kind.

How to Get More Moderate Exercise

There are many ways to build moderate activity into your lifestyle. These include:

  • Try 10-minute bursts of activity: Walk briskly for at least 10 minutes at a time. Start by walking at an easy pace for a couple of minutes, then pick up the pace for 10 minutes. Try to walk during work breaks or lunch, and/or before or after the workday.
  • Try walking workouts: You can walk indoors (at the mall or on a track at the gym), outdoors, or on a treadmill. Using good posture and walking techniques make it easier to achieve a brisk pace. After you are comfortable walking briskly for 10 minutes at a time, begin to extend your walking time. For variety, try different walking workouts that offer bursts of walking faster, jogging intervals, or adding hills or treadmill incline.
  • Try a new activity: You may discover that you can't walk fast enough to boost your heart rate into the moderate-intensity zone. If so, consider cycling, swimming, or using an elliptical trainer to achieve a higher heart rate.

A Word From Verywell

Enjoying moderate physical activity will help keep your body in working order. Don't be distressed if you can only do a little at first. Give yourself time to build your endurance. Then make time each day for the activities you like best.

Was this page helpful?
4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Published 2018.

  2. American Heart Association. American Heart Association recommendations for physical activity in adults and kids. Updated April 18, 2018.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Target heart rate and estimated maximum heart rate. Updated December 3, 2019.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Perceived exertion (Borg rating). Updated December 21, 2019.