• What is your level of intensity? Assessing the intensity of your physical activity routine

    To improve overall fitness,  health, weight or your general well-being it is recommended that you purposefully include at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise in your week’s activities – or a combination of the two for adults.

    But what exactly, do the terms moderate and vigorous exercise mean and how do you know if you’re working out at the right intensity? Let’s have a chat on this today, as we make it more practical for you to do regularly.

    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.

    1. Assessing your physical activity level is easier if you know how to classify different kinds of activities. Fitness experts categorize activities into the following three levels:
    Type Description Examples
    Light Light activity includes the routine tasks associated with typical day-to-day life, such as vacuuming or walking to class. You probably perform dozens of light activities every day without even thinking about it. You can gain significant health benefits by turning light activities into moderate activities—by walking briskly instead of slowly, for example. Walking slowly

    Routine tasks:



    Light housework:



    Washing dishes

    Light yard work or home





    Light fi tness activities:

    Light stretching or warm-up

    Swimming, slow treading

    Moderate Moderate activity causes your breathing and heart rate to accelerate but still allows for comfortable conversation, such as walking at 3–4 miles per hour. It is sometimes described as activity that can be performed comfortably for about 45 minutes. Raking leaves is an example of moderate physical activity, as are most occupational tasks that involve extended periods of moderate effort. Walking briskly

    Cycling moderately on level terrain

    Social dancing

    Moderate housework:

    Scrubbing fl oors

    Washing windows

    Moderate yard work or home activities:




    Washing car

    Fitness activities requiring moderate effort:

    Doing low-impact aerobics

    Playing Frisbee


    Playing tennis, doubles

    Vigorous Vigorous activity elevates your heart rate considerably and has other physical effects that improve your fitness level. During vigorous activity you are breathing too heavily to hold a conversation very easily. An example is walking faster than 4 miles per hour. Walking briskly uphill

    Cycling on steep uphill terrain

    Heavy housework:

    Moving furniture

    Carrying heavy objects upstairs

    Vigorous yard work or home activities:

    Shoveling snow

    Trimming trees

    Doing construction work


    Fitness activities requiring vigorous effort:


    Doing high-impact aerobics

    Doing circuit weight training

    Swimming laps

    Playing most competitive sports

    2. Perceived Exertion (Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale)

    The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a way of measuring physical activity intensity level. Perceived exertion is how hard you feel like your body is working. It is based on the physical sensations a person experiences during physical activity, including increased heart rate, increased respiration or breathing rate, increased sweating, and muscle fatigue. Although this is a subjective measure, a person’s exertion rating may provide a fairly good estimate of the actual heart rate during physical activity* (Borg, 1998).

    Practitioners generally agree that perceived exertion ratings between 12 to 14 on the Borg Scale suggests that physical activity is being performed at a moderate level of intensity. During activity, use the Borg Scale to assign numbers to how you feel (see instructions below). Self-monitoring how hard your body is working can help you adjust the intensity of the activity by speeding up or slowing down your movements.

    Through experience of monitoring how your body feels, it will become easier to know when to adjust your intensity. For example, a walker who wants to engage in moderate-intensity activity would aim for a Borg Scale level of “somewhat hard” (12-14). If he describes his muscle fatigue and breathing as “very light” (9 on the Borg Scale) he would want to increase his intensity. On the other hand, if he felt his exertion was “extremely hard” (19 on the Borg Scale) he would need to slow down his movements to achieve the moderate-intensity range.

    *A high correlation exists between a person’s perceived exertion rating times 10 and the actual heart rate during physical activity; so a person’s exertion rating may provide a fairly good estimate of the actual heart rate during activity (Borg, 1998). For example, if a person’s rating of perceived exertion (RPE) is 12, then 12 x 10 = 120; so the heart rate should be approximately 120 beats per minute. Note that this calculation is only an approximation of heart rate, and the actual heart rate can vary quite a bit depending on age and physical condition. The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion is also the preferred method to assess intensity among those individuals who take medications that affect heart rate or pulse.

    Instructions for Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale

    While doing physical activity, we want you to rate your perception of exertion. This feeling should reflect how heavy and strenuous the exercise feels to you, combining all sensations and feelings of physical stress, effort, and fatigue. Do not concern yourself with any one factor such as leg pain or shortness of breath, but try to focus on your total feeling of exertion.

    Look at the rating scale below while you are engaging in an activity; it ranges from 6 to 20, where 6 means “no exertion at all” and 20 means “maximal exertion.” Choose the number from below that best describes your level of exertion. This will give you a good idea of the intensity level of your activity, and you can use this information to speed up or slow down your movements to reach your desired range.

    Try to appraise your feeling of exertion as honestly as possible, without thinking about what the actual physical load is. Your own feeling of effort and exertion is important, not how it compares to other people’s. Look at the scales and the expressions and then give a number.

    6 No exertion at all


    Extremely light (7.5)


    9 Very light


    11 Light


    13 Somewhat hard


    15 Hard (heavy)


    17 Very hard


    19 Extremely hard

    20 Maximal exertion

    9 corresponds to “very light” exercise. For a healthy person, it is like walking slowly at his or her own pace for some minutes

    13 on the scale is “somewhat hard” exercise, but it still feels OK to continue.

    17 “very hard” is very strenuous. A healthy person can still go on, but he or she really has to push him- or herself. It feels very heavy, and the person is very tired.

    19 on the scale is an extremely strenuous exercise level. For most people this is the most strenuous exercise they have ever experienced.

    Borg RPE scale

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