Locations:
Search IconSearch

What Does ‘Moderate-Intensity Exercise’ Mean Anyway?

From gardening to walking for 30 or more minutes, you want to get your heart rate up 50% to 60%

Older male in helmet biking on forest trails

If you talk to a healthcare provider or read any physical fitness tips online, you’re likely to come across the phrase “moderate-intensity exercise.” You may have had this type of exercise recommended to you if you’re currently pregnant, just getting started on a workout routine or because of your overall health history.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

But you may be wondering what even counts as “moderate-intensity exercise”? And how do you know if you’re getting the benefits of working out?

Exercise physiologist Christopher Travers, MS, explains what moderate exercise means and how you can implement it into your lifestyle.

What is moderate-intensity exercise?

In short, moderate-intensity activity is usually made up of exercises that get your heart rate up to 50% to 60% higher than its rate when you’re at rest. This means these physical activities make your heart beat a little faster and your breathing a bit harder. It’s like a level of exercise that feels somewhat challenging, but you’re not completely exhausted.

And the good news is, you can easily calculate it for yourself and find activities that fall into the moderate-intensity category, but still give your body a good sweat.

For example, when you go for a brisk walk or ride your bike at a steady pace, that’s considered moderate-intensity exercise. It’s a good way to stay healthy and active without pushing yourself too hard.

“Different groups have slightly different recommendations,” explains Travers. “But in general, we advise 150 minutes per week, or about 30 minutes five days a week, of moderate-intensity activity. In the exercise world, we consider this anything that gets your heart rate up to 50% to 60% higher than your resting heart rate.”

What are examples of moderate-intensity exercises?

What does that activity look like? You may be surprised which exercises fall into the moderate-intensity range. A lot of it also depends on how long you’re doing the exercises, Travers adds.

All of the following fit the moderate-intensity definition of exercise:

  • Walking two miles in 30 minutes.
  • Biking five miles in 30 minutes.
  • Swimming laps for 20 minutes.
  • Running one and a half miles in 15 minutes.
  • Doing water aerobics for 30 minutes.
  • Playing volleyball for 45 minutes.
  • Playing basketball for 20 minutes.
  • Jumping rope for 15 minutes.
  • Walking stairs for 15 minutes.

Other activities you might not even think of as exercise fit the “moderate-intensity” definition, too. These may include:

  • Washing your car for 45 minutes to an hour.
  • Gardening for 30 to 45 minutes.
  • Raking leaves for 30 minutes.
  • Dancing for 30 minutes.

Advertisement

“Ten minutes is the minimum amount of time you need to get the benefits of cardiovascular exercise,” Travers shares. “I often tell patients to start with 10 to 20 minutes of any activity, and then, work your way up. If you’ve been living a sedentary life, or if you have medical conditions that limit your activity, you need to ease yourself into fitness and see how your body responds.”

When you’re crafting an overall fitness plan, be sure to incorporate strength training, too. Strength training helps with joint flexibility, increases muscle mass and increases bone density. Not only that, but your body also burns calories more easily, which, in turn, helps with weight management.

Moderate-intensity exercise and heart rate

If you’re still confused about whether what you’re doing is moderate-intensity exercise, your heart rate and breathing rate will give you the answer. This means: Listen to your body.

For example, a simple way to tell if you’re in the moderate-intensity zone is by using the “talk test.” “When exercising at moderate intensity, you should be able to talk to others without gasping for air,” explains Travers. “Speaking will take a little more effort than usual, but you should be able to carry on a conversation.”

But if you want to be more scientific, you can start by defining your resting heart rate. You can do this by taking your pulse when you first wake up in the morning. Doctors and exercise specialists use the Karvonen formula to figure out your target heart rate for exercise. To find your target heart rate, start by calculating the following:

  1. Subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate.
  2. Next, subtract your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate.
  3. Multiply that number by your percentage of training intensity. Then, add your resting heart rate to get your target heart rate.

For example, a 50-year-old woman has a resting heart rate of 70. She wants to exercise at 50% intensity — the low end of the moderate-intensity range of 50% to 60%. The formula looks like this:

  1. 220 – 50 = 170 (maximum heart rate)
  2. 170 – 70 = 100
  3. (100 × 50%) + 70 = 120 (target heart rate)

“If you’re interested in using formulas and heart rate monitors, I encourage their use,” Travers recommends. “A doctor or exercise specialist can even help you get started. If you prefer to skip the math and just incorporate the exercises above or others into your life, and you’re healthy enough to do so, you are still on the right track.”

The bottom line

Moderate-intensity exercise is a great way to have a balanced fitness routine while not pushing yourself too hard. Especially if you’re just starting or you have certain health conditions that affect the way you react to exercise, it’s good to make sure you’re choosing moderate-intensity activities.

If you don’t know where to start with a fitness plan, talk to a healthcare provider or exercise physiologist who can help recommend exercises to help get you started on your fitness journey.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Health Library
Aerobic Exercise

Related Articles

Healthcare provider checking patient's knee
June 19, 2024/Chronic Pain
Arthritis Exercise: What To Try and What To Avoid

Exercising can actually improve arthritis symptoms — and low-impact exercises are best

Person doing a Bulgarian-split squat outside
June 17, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
10 Squat Variations To Add to Your Workout

Bulgarian split squats, hack squats and goblet squats are just a few of the moves you can try

Older person smiling, taking in the outdoors
June 13, 2024/Mental Health
Put Intention Behind Your Walking Meditation

While walking, be mindful of your body, your mind, your place in the world and all five of your senses as you pave a path forward, one step at a time

Person in a deep squat
June 13, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Here’s the Right Way To Do a Squat

Squat smart with proper technique, including a neutral spine, wide knees and an engaged core

People in gym doing cool down stretches
June 10, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Why You Shouldn’t Skip Cool Down Exercises

This important step gives your body time to return to its resting state while reducing muscle cramps, dizziness and injury

Person walking dog and person running in a park, with person sitting on a bench
June 5, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Walking vs. Running: Which Is Better for You?

The short answer? The best exercise is the one you’ll actually do

Hand holding cellphone with walking app, with feet walking and footprints
May 17, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Should You Aim To Walk 10,000 Steps a Day?

Walking is a great goal, but how many steps are best for you depends on factors like your fitness level and age

Person walking on walking pad at home office desk
May 16, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
What’s a Walking Pad — And Do They Really Work?

A walking pad is a simplified treadmill that can fit under your desk and help you get more movement in your day

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad