What Is Vigorous Intensity Exercise?

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Vigorous-intensity exercise is a physical activity done with a large amount of effort. It is the intensity at which you have a substantially higher heart rate and rapid breathing. You are only able to speak in short phrases due to the rapid breathing and effort. You would classify your exertion level as from hard to extremely hard. Activities that are usually classified as being of vigorous intensity include running, cycling, and singles tennis.

Also called: High-intensity exercise, hard exercise.

How Is Vigorous-Intensity Exercise Measured?

  • Talk Test: The simplest way to determine if you are at a vigorous level of exercise is with a talk test. At vigorous intensity, you can only speak a few words at a time. You can't speak easily in full sentences.
  • MET and Calories Burned: The effort required for vigorous intensity exercise is defined by the Centers for Disease Control as greater than 6 metabolic equivalents (MET), burning more than 7 kilocalories per minute. This is six times the energy cost of sitting quietly, 1 MET, which burns 1.2 kilocalories per minute.
  • Heart Rate: Vigorous intensity is also defined by the CDC as exercise at a heart rate of 70 percent to 85 percent of a person's maximum heart rate. This varies by age and fitness level, so you should use a  heart rate zone chart or calculator to find this number for your age and gender.
  • Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE): If you were to rate your effort on the Borg Perceived Exertion Scale, which is a scale from 6 being no exertion to 20 being maximal exertion, vigorous intensity is 15 to 19, the range you would rate subjectively as hard, very hard, or extremely hard, according to the American Heart Association.

    What Are Typical Vigorous-Intensity Physical Activities?

    • Jogging or running
    • Racewalking
    • Hiking uphill
    • Cycling more than 10 miles per hour or steeply uphill
    • Swimming fast or lap swimming
    • Aerobic dancing, fast dancing, step aerobics
    • Heavy gardening with digging, hoeing, shoveling heavy snow, moving or pushing heavy objects, carrying loads of 50 pounds on level ground or 25 pounds or more upstairs.
    • Martial arts
    • Playing sports with lots of running such as basketball, hockey, soccer
    • Singles tennis
    • Court sports such as handball, racquetball, squash

    How Much Vigorous-Intensity Exercise Do You Need?

    Health guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, American Heart Association, and other health authorities recommend the amount of moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise needed to maintain health and reduce health risks. Vigorous-intensity exercise is recommended for 25 minutes a day, three days a week or a total of 1 hour and 15 minutes per week (75 minutes). Vigorous-intensity exercise can be alternated with moderate-intensity exercise to achieve health risk reduction goals.

    • How Long: At least 10 minutes at a time, preferably for 25 minutes at a time.
    • What Does Vigorous Aerobic Exercise Feel Like? You are breathing rapidly and only able to speak in short phrases. Your heart rate is substantially increased, and you are likely to be sweating.
    • How Often: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Heart Association recommend a total of 1 hour and 15 minutes per week. This can be done as 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, three days (or more) per week for a total of 75 minutes per week for overall cardiovascular health

    Moderate-to-Vigorous Intensity Exercise: More Is Better

    Most activities have a mix of easy, moderate, and vigorous intensity. A mixture of moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity for 40 minutes at a time, three or four days per week is recommended to lower blood pressure and cholesterol by the American Heart Association.

    Health guidelines often recommend a mix of activities, with more being better. These guidelines are the minimum for maintaining good health. If you work out for longer, or more often, you further improve your fitness and reduce your risk of chronic disease and weight gain.

    Many activity monitors will estimate the time your spend in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity so you can be more assured that you are meeting the minimum recommendations.

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