How hard do you have to work out to see any benefits?

The most frequently asked question here at ParticipACTION is: “what is moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity?”

There is a short answer and a long answer, but the long answer is complicated. The short answer is that moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity is anything that:

  • Makes you breath heavy
  • Feel warm and start to sweat
  • Makes it possible, but hard to have a conversation with someone (moderate-intensity)
  • Impossible to sing out loud to yourself (vigorous-intensity)

If that’s enough guidance for you to understand the Physical Activity Guidelines then STOP READING!

If you want a bit more information, or still don’t quite understand, read on!

The concept of intensity is based on how hard your body is working. This means that intensity is a relative term. In other words, what is moderate-intensity activity for you, may actually be vigorous-intensity activity for me.

But, since we live in a very large world, we’ve had to make some generalizations to provide population-level guidelines. So in generalmoderate-intensity activity is anything that is 3 times higher than your resting metabolic rate. In other words, it requires you to work approximately 3 times harder than if you were sitting doing nothing.

Vigorous-intensity activity is anything that’s 6 times (or higher) than your resting metabolic rate. Or an activity that requires you to work 6 times harder (or more!) than if you were sitting doing nothing. And there’s pretty good evidence to suggest that higher intensities (i.e., vigorous intensity) is even better for your health.

Sedentary behaviour is anything that requires very little energy expenditure and done in the sitting or reclined position. And light-intensity activity is anything in between sedentary behavior and moderate-intensity activity (from 1.5 times-3 times the energy required to sit and do nothing).*

So where do these cut points come from? Levels of intensity are based on the metabolic cost of doing various activities. Researchers use this information to understand what types of activities help you meet guidelines, and to understand the health benefits of various intensities of activities. We know that moderate- to vigorous-intensity is what’s needed to be your healthiest self.

So, this is what you need to know to understand what we mean when we say “moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity.” Need a reminder on how active you should be? Read the guidelines for your age group here.

*Sleep is a whole different type of behavior and doesn’t fall into any of the activities we mention here. Getting enough good quality, and consistent sleep is important for everyone.