What Is Moderate Exercise?

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Many physical activity recommendations report that moderate exercise is important for health and well-being. Aiming to get at least the minimum amount of moderate activity per week can help prevent disease, boost mood, assist with weight loss (or maintenance), and more.

What Is Moderate Exercise?

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

The American Heart Association (AHA) adds that, when doing moderate exercise, you should be breathing harder 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

Engaging regularly in moderate exercise can provide the following benefits:

  • Reduced risk of major medical conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and dementia
  • Sleep and sleep disorder improvements
  • Better brain function (memory, focus, and processing of information)
  • Weight-related benefits
  • Improved bone health
  • Mental health improvements, such as reduced depression and anxiety symptoms

How Much Moderate Exercise Do You Need?

Health guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services and the AHA both give the same prescription for the amount of moderate exercise needed for the best health benefits: 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 even more health benefits according to government guidelines.

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 exercise pulse or use a heart rate monitor, an app, a fitness band, or a smartwatch. This helps ensure that you are staying at a moderate intensity.


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 (RPE). Using this scale involves monitoring how you feel about your activity level.

At one end of this 20-point scale would be absolute stillness. At the other 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

What Are Some Examples of Moderate Exercise?

There are many activities that are generally counted as moderate-intensity exercise. Here are some of the most common ones:

If You Have Mobility Challenges

If you are not able to use your legs, you can achieve moderately-intense exercise 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 exercise minutes and exercise calories burned. It is a good way to check and be sure 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. Enjoy different walking workouts for variety, varying the intensity with 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 the time each day for the activities you like best.

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Article Sources
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  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. Reviewed Apr 18, 2018.

  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. 2018. 

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

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