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Types of physical activity

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How much physical activity should I do?

Health benefits are gained by doing the following each week:

  • 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity
    or
  • 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity
    or
  • A combination of moderate and vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity
    and
  • 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.

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Aerobic activity

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 and vigorous physical activities
 Moderate activitiesVigorous activities
Leisure activitiesWalking at a brisk pace, ballroom dancing, leisurely bicycling, roller skating, canoeingJogging, running, bicycling fast or uphill, jumping rope, swimming continuous laps
SportsGolfing, softball, badminton, downhill skiing, Frisbee playingSingles tennis, beach volleyball on sand, basketball game, soccer, cross-country skiing
Home activitiesPushing a power lawn mower, gardening, raking leaves, shoveling light snow, moderate housework, hand washing/waxing a car, actively playing with children, riding a stationary bikePushing 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 activityMaid service, waiting tables, feeding or grooming farm animals, manually milking cows, picking fruits or vegetables, walking while carrying a mailbagTeaching an aerobic dance class, heavy farm work

For more examples of activities that are considered "moderate-intensity" and "vigorous-intensity," check out pdf icon General Physical Activities Defined By Level of Intensity (PDF, 65 KB).

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Muscle-strengthening activities

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.

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Content last updated June 17, 2008.

Resources last updated September 23, 2013.

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