Moderate to Vigorous: What Is Your Intensity?

diverse group of friends about to run race on beach at sunset

To improve overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week (or a combination of the two) for adults.

But what exactly do moderate and vigorous exercise mean and how do you know if you’re working out at the right intensity?

There are a couple different ways to measure the level of intensity at which you are exercising and that level is based on your individual fitness level and overall health.

The Talk Test

With any aerobic (or cardio) activity your heart rate and breathing will speed up. At moderate intensity you’ll still be able to talk without getting out of breath. At vigorous intensity you may only be able to say a few words before getting out of breath.

The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

As defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, this is a way of measuring physical activity intensity level. Perceived exertion is how hard you feel like your body is working. The RPE is based on the physical sensations you experience during physical activity, including:

  • increased heart rate,
  • increased respiration or breathing rate,
  • increased sweating, and
  • muscle fatigue.

Target Heart Rate

Tracking your heart rate is another way to measure and increase the intensity of your workout.

Examples of Moderate Intensity Exercise

  • Walking briskly (2.5 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking)
  • Water aerobics
  • Bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour
  • Tennis (doubles)
  • Ballroom dancing
  • General gardening

Examples of Vigorous Intensity Exercise

  • Race walking, jogging, or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Tennis (singles)
  • Aerobic dancing
  • Bicycling 10 miles per hour or faster
  • Jumping rope
  • Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing)
  • Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack

Last Reviewed 3/2014