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Types of physical activity
- How much physical activity should I do?
- Aerobic activity
- Muscle-strengthening activities
- More information on types of physical activity
Health benefits are gained by doing the following each week:
- 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity
- 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity
- A combination of moderate and vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity
- Muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days
You can gain even more benefits by boosting activity to 5 hours of moderate intensity or 2 hours and 30 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity each week.
Aerobic activity involves moving the large muscles in your arms, legs, and hips over and over again. During aerobic activity, you breathe faster and more deeply, and your heart beats faster. If your breathing and heart rate increase to a moderate degree, your activity is considered moderate intensity. An example would be walking on a level surface at a brisk pace (about 3 to 4 miles per hour). If your breathing increases so much that it is difficult to carry on a conversation, your activity is considered vigorous intensity. An example would be jogging.
Do at least 10 minutes of aerobic activity at a time. It is best to spread it throughout the week. This physical activity should be in addition to your routine activities of daily living, such as cooking or walking a short distance such as from the parking lot to your office.
If you have not been physically active for a long time, you need to start slowly and then work your way up as you become more fit. For example, if you do not feel up to walking for 30 minutes, try walking for 10 minutes. Then increase your walking time by 5 minutes each week until you reach 30 minutes.
Below are some moderate and vigorous physical activities that you might consider:
|Moderate activities||Vigorous activities|
|Leisure activities||Walking at a brisk pace, ballroom dancing, leisurely bicycling, roller skating, canoeing||Jogging, running, bicycling fast or uphill, jumping rope, swimming continuous laps|
|Sports||Golfing, softball, badminton, downhill skiing, Frisbee playing||Singles tennis, beach volleyball on sand, basketball game, soccer, cross-country skiing|
|Home activities||Pushing a power lawn mower, gardening, raking leaves, shoveling light snow, moderate housework, hand washing/waxing a car, actively playing with children, riding a stationary bike||Pushing a hand mower, heavy or rapid shoveling (more than 10 pounds per minute), carrying items weighing 25 pounds or more up a flight of stairs|
|Occupational activity||Maid service, waiting tables, feeding or grooming farm animals, manually milking cows, picking fruits or vegetables, walking while carrying a mailbag||Teaching an aerobic dance class, heavy farm work|
For more examples of activities that are considered "moderate-intensity" and "vigorous-intensity," check out General Physical Activities Defined By Level of Intensity (PDF, 65 KB).
Another type of physical activity that you should do on a regular basis is strength training. Muscle-strengthening activities increase the strength and endurance of your muscles. Examples of these activities include working out with weight machines and free weights.
You do not need to invest in a gym membership or buy expensive home gym equipment to do muscle-strengthening activities. Hand, wrist, and ankle weights are less costly options. Also, homemade weights, such as plastic soft drink bottles filled with sand or water, may work just as well. You can also use your own body weight, doing activities such as push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups. You could also buy a resistance band at a sporting-goods store. It looks like a giant rubber band, and stretching it helps build muscle.
You should try to do muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days each week. Allow one day in between sessions to avoid excess strain on your muscles and joints. During each session, repeat each activity 8-12 times.
Explore other publications and websites
2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans — This publication is the government’s official guide for Americans to use to get healthy. It discusses the recommended amount of physical activity that adults and children should do weekly and how this will benefit their health.
Catch the Ball (Girls and Women's Fitness Tips) — Today, more girls are participating in a wider array of physical activities and sports than ever before. This brochure reviews the physical and mental health benefits of involving girls in sports and provides 10 practical tips to get involved in your local community and encourage girls to reach their full potential.
Choosing a Safe and Successful Weight-loss Program — This publication provides information on how to design a responsible and safe weight-loss program. It also gives advice on how to make weight control a life-long goal.
Physical Activity for Everyone: Videos — This site features videos that help explain the Physical Activity Guidelines, give you tips on how to meet them, and show you how to do muscle-strengthening exercises properly.
Strength and Balance Exercises (Copyright © American Heart Association) — Use the simple movements on this website to help build your strength and balance. Pictures and descriptions of exercises included.
Stretching and Flexibility Exercises (Copyright © American Heart Association) — Use these simple stretches to improve your flexibility. Pictures and descriptions of exercises are included.
Walking: A Step in the Right Direction — This publication offers information about how to start your own walking and exercise program. A sample walking program and guidelines are provided to help guide you through developing your own program.
Weight-training and Weight-lifting Safety (Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians) — This fact sheet discusses the basics of starting a weight-training routine and outlines injury prevention steps.
Connect with other organizations
Aerobics and Fitness Association of America
American Heart Association
Women's Sports Foundation
Content last updated June 17, 2008.
Resources last updated June 17, 2008.
A federal government website managed by the Office on Women's Health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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