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Exercise intensity: Why it matters, how it's measured
By Mayo Clinic staff

Original Article: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exerciseintensity/SM00113

Exercise intensity: Why it matters, how it's measured
Get the most from your workouts by knowing how to gauge your exercise intensity. By Mayo Clinic staff When you work out, are you working hard or hardly working? Exercising at the correct intensity can help you can get the most out of your physical activity — making sure you're not overdoing or even underdoing it. Here's a look at what exercise intensity means and how to make it work for you.

Understanding exercise intensity
When you're doing aerobic activity, such as walking or biking, exercise intensity correlates with how hard the activity feels to you. Exercise intensity also is reflected in how hard your heart is working. There are two basic ways to measure exercise intensity:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise-intensity/SM00113/METHOD... 12-Apr-13

So if you think you're working hard. a heart rate monitor might be a useful device for you. the higher your heart rate during physical activity. or the longer you exercise. the more intense your exercise.. train for a competition. swimming or mowing the lawn — or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity — such as running or aerobic dancing. the more calories you burn. injury and burnout.com/health/exercise-intensity/SM00113/METHOD. However. Your heart rate offers a more objective look at exercise intensity. For weight loss. In general. or a combination of these? Your answer will help determine the appropriate level of exercise intensity. your exercise intensity must generally be at a moderate or vigorous level. the Department of Health and Human Services recommends these exercise guidelines: • Aerobic activity. Your perceived level of exertion may be different from what someone else feels doing the same exercise. Overdoing it can increase your risk of soreness. 12-Apr-13 . how it's measured . Do you want to improve your fitness. If you feel you're in tune with your body and your level of exertion.com Page 2 of 6 • How you feel. you may need to start out at a light intensity and gradually build up to a moderate or vigorous intensity.. The amount of time for each session is up to you.Exercise intensity: Why it matters. Strength training. what feels to you like a hard run can feel like an easy workout to someone who's more fit. If you're new to regular exercise and physical activity. your heart rate is likely elevated. preferably spread throughout the course of a week. • So think about your reasons for exercising. For example.MayoClinic. To reap the most health benefits from exercise. If you like technology and care about the numbers. weight machines or activities that use your own body weight — such as rock climbing or heavy gardening. you likely will do fine without a monitor. Choosing your exercise intensity How do you know how hard you should be exercising? For most healthy adults. Consider free weights. balance is important.mayoclinic. Do strength training exercises at least twice a week. • Studies show that your perceived exertion correlates well with your heart rate. Get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity — such as brisk walking. Your heart rate. the higher the exercise intensity. You can use either way of gauging exercise intensity. http://www. You can also do a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. lose weight. Exercise intensity is a subjective measure of how hard physical activity feels to you while you're doing it — your perceived exertion.

but you're not out of breath. your exercise intensity is probably higher than your fitness level allows. subtract 45 from 220.. You don't break a sweat (unless it's very hot or humid).Exercise intensity: Why it matters.com/health/exercise-intensity/SM00113/METHOD. Vigorous exercise intensity Vigorous activity feels challenging. how it's measured . Here are clues that your exercise intensity is at a light level: • • • You have no noticeable changes in your breathing pattern. but you can't sing. You develop a sweat after a few minutes of activity.MayoClinic. You develop a light sweat after about 10 minutes of activity. To use this method. Moderate exercise intensity Moderate activity feels somewhat hard. Here are clues that your exercise intensity is at a vigorous level: • • • Your breathing is deep and rapid. if you're 45 years old. You can easily carry on a full conversation or even sing. Light exercise intensity Light activity feels easy. in pain or can't work out as long as you'd planned. Gauging intensity using your heart rate Another way to gauge your exercise intensity is to see how hard your heart is beating during physical activity. If you're short of breath. you first have to figure out your maximum heart rate — the upper limit of what your cardiovascular system can handle during physical activity. The basic way to calculate your maximum heart rate is to take 220 minus your age.mayoclinic.. to get a maximum heart http://www. For example. You can't say more than a few words without pausing for breath. You can carry on a conversation. Overexerting yourself Beware of pushing yourself too hard too often. Here are clues that your exercise intensity is at a moderate level: • • • Your breathing quickens. 12-Apr-13 .com Page 3 of 6 Gauging intensity by how you feel Here are some clues to help you judge your exercise intensity. Back off a bit and build intensity gradually.

opt for light exercise intensity and gradually build up to a higher intensity. Here's how heart rate matches up with exercise intensity levels: • • • Light exercise intensity: 40 to 50 percent of your maximum heart rate Moderate exercise intensity: 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate Vigorous exercise intensity: 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate If you're not fit or you're just beginning an exercise program.85 (85 percent) to determine the upper end of your target heart rate zone. Working out within your target heart rate zone gives you the best results for burning fat and losing weight. This is the maximum number of times your heart should beat per a minute while you're exercising. If you're healthy and want a vigorous intensity.com/health/exercise-intensity/SM00113/METHOD. 12-Apr-13 . If you work out above that zone. say your age is 45 and you want to figure out your target heart rate zone for vigorous intensity exercise. which is in the vigorous range. multiply 175 by 0.. multiply 175 by 0. opt for the higher end of the zone. and you may not burn as many calories. which does the calculations for you. Multiply your maximum heart rate by 0.7 to get 123. how it's measured . you reduce your exercise intensity. How to tell if you're in the zone So how do you know if you're in your target heart rate zone? Use these steps to check your heart rate during exercise: • Stop momentarily.85 to get 149.com Page 4 of 6 rate of 175. here's how to do the math yourself. use an online target heart rate calculator.MayoClinic. Once you know your maximum heart rate. http://www. To get the higher end. If you're aiming for a target heart rate of 70 to 85 percent. So your target heart rate zone for vigorous exercise intensity is 123 to 149 beats per minute. To determine your desired target heart rate zone. Or. Multiple that number by 0. Subtract 45 from 220 to get 175 — this is your maximum heart rate. you would calculate it like this: • • Subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate..mayoclinic. To get the lower end of your target zone. you may not be able to work out as long as you planned.Exercise intensity: Why it matters. • For example. you can calculate your desired target heart rate zone — the level at which your heart is being exercised and conditioned but not overworked. If you work out below that zone.7 (70 percent) to determine the lower end of your target heart rate zone.

If you're 45 years old." "Mayo Clinic. adjust your exercise intensity. All rights reserved. "Mayo. These differences are so small that most casual athletes don't need separate calculations for men and women.com/health/exercise-intensity/SM00113/METHOD.com Page 5 of 6 • Take your pulse for 15 seconds. back off a bit. place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery — which is located on the thumb side of your wrist. • Multiply this number by 4 to calculate your beats per minute. getting 33 beats. To check your pulse over your carotid artery.." "MayoClinic. To check your pulse at your wrist. If you have any medical conditions.mayoclinic. since that zone is 123 to 149 beats per minute.Exercise intensity: Why it matters. If you want a more definitive range. place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. A single copy of these materials may be reprinted for noncommercial personal use only. consider discussing your target heart rate zone with an exercise physiologist or a personal trainer. Reap the rewards of exercise intensity You'll get the most from your workouts if you're exercising at the proper exercise intensity for your health and fitness goals. pick up the pace. Here's an example: You stop exercising and take your pulse for 15 seconds. 2011 SM00113 © 1998-2013 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).com.. If you're worried that you're pushing yourself too hard or your heart rate is too high. Generally only elite athletes are concerned about this level of precision. lower your target heart rate zone. you're not sure what your exercise intensity should be or you want help determining your target heart rate zone. this puts you in the middle of your target heart rate zone for vigorous exercise. They may also use slightly different calculations that take into account gender differences in target heart rate zones. Also note that several types of medications can lower your maximum heart rate and. If you're under or over your target heart rate zone. Multiply 33 by 4. to get 132. References March 5. sometimes by as much as 15 to 20 beats per minute. Target heart rate tips It's important to note that maximum heart rate is just a guide. therefore. Ask your doctor if you need to use a lower target heart rate zone because of any medications you take or medical conditions you have. how it's measured . If you're not feeling any exertion or your heart rate is too low." http://www. You may have a higher or lower maximum heart rate. 12-Apr-13 .MayoClinic. talk to your doctor or consult a professional exercise specialist.

com/health/exercise-intensity/SM00113/METHOD.mayoclinic." "Enhance your life.. http://www.com Page 6 of 6 "EmbodyHealth.MayoClinic.Exercise intensity: Why it matters.." and the triple-shield Mayo Clinic logo are trademarks of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. how it's measured . 12-Apr-13 .

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