You may have heard the recommendation to get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity in per week. But what is moderate aerobic activity? We are all different, with varying levels of fitness and varying degrees of health problems. Moderate means something different for each of us.
There are, however, some simple ways to measure our own activity levels and to have a better gage of what makes most sense for each of us.
One of these methods, the Borg Scale, measures perceived exertion, based on your observation of how hard you are working while you exercise, including how hard you are breathing, how tired your muscles feel, how much you are sweating and how fatigued your whole body feels. When each of these factors is considered and measured against the Borg Scale, you can understand what “moderate” means for you. The Borg Scale ranges from 6 to 20, where 6 is the feeling of rest and 20 is the feeling of maximum exertion. Moderate exertion is between 12 and 14.
Target Heart Rate Range
Knowing the correct range for your target heart rate is another method based on a fairly simple formula. To find your own target range for moderate level of activity, first, calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Then, multiply the maximum by 50% and by 70%. For example, here is the calculation for a 65 year old:
220 – 65 = 155 bpm (beats per minute)
155 x 50% = 77.5 bpm
77.5 x 70% = 108.5 bpm
Based on this calculation, this person’s target heart rate range is 77.5 to 108.5 beats per minute for a moderate level of activity.
Another suggestion for measuring what moderate means for you is the Talk Test. While you are exercising, try talking and then try singing. If you’re working at a moderate level you can carry on a conversation, but you would be too out of breath to sing.
We are All Different
Keep in mind that moderate intensity exercise can mean different things to different people, at different times of their lives. For example, a 55 year old man with diabetes who is starting at a low fitness level and is in the middle of cancer treatment may reach moderate intensity of exercise by slow walking, doing chair based exercises or arm exercises while lying in bed. If a 20 minute session per day is too intense for him, he may need to break up his workouts into shorter periods with more frequency, such as four 5-minute sessions throughout each day.
A reasonably fit 40 year old woman, post-cancer treatment with no other health concerns may have a different tolerance. In her situation, going for a 30 minute bike ride or swim 5 days per week or a brisk 50 minute walk 3 times per week may be more suitable for her to reach moderate intensity exercise levels.
So what does “moderate activity” mean for you? Many things you may already be doing can be considered exercise, such as gardening, housework or dancing. Above and beyond those daily activities, the selection is limitless. Good options are hiking, swimming, circuit training or Nordic walking. Consider trying something new to help keep up your interest.
Be Kind to Yourself
Remember to monitor yourself. How you respond to the exercise session is very important. If your fatigue level is much worse afterwards, you have likely overdone it. Aim for feeling tired, but not exhausted.
Before starting an exercise program, it is important to get a medical clearance from your doctor. Also, consider consulting an exercise professional, such as a Kinesiologist or Exercise Physiologist for an assessment to ensure you are doing the most beneficial and safe exercises for your situation and current health status.
About the Author
Dale Ischia, CSEP, Accredited Exercise Physiologist works at Back on Track Fitness: Moving Beyond Cancer in Vancouver, British Columbia. She works with clients who have a diagnosis of cancer and are referred by InspireHealth.