Spring is here, which means warmer weather and a lot more opportunity for outdoor activity. This is a great time of year to increase your physical activity while enjoying your favorite hobbies and sports. Most of us are aware that physical activity is great for our health and fitness, but not everybody enjoys traditional exercise. The good news is there is a lot we can do to meet the recommended amount of physical activity without it having to feel like a chore! But how much activity is enough and which types are best?
That first question is a little easier to answer. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and American Heart Association have created a joint recommendation for physical activity. They recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exertion per week, or at least 60 minutes of vigorous activity per week. The ACSM and AHA suggest trying to space activity throughout the week with at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on 5 or more days. The recommendation for vigorous activity is 3 or more days of 20 minutes.
When it comes to answering the question of which activities are best, that answer requires a little more explaining. First, it’s important to define moderate and vigorous intensities. There are several ways we can measure physical activity intensity: heart rate, metabolic equivalent of task (MET) levels, and perceived exertion are just a few. Heart rate is a great gauge of intensity but it’s not always easy or practical to measure in the midst of your favorite activity. Your rating of perceived exertion is another good indicator of intensity. However, perceived exertion can be a bit subjective. Thankfully, exercise scientists have measured the intensities of most of our favorite physical activities and categorized them by METs.
Simply put, METs tell us how hard the human body is working. For example, sitting at rest is equal to 1 MET. Getting up and walking at a comfortable pace, that’s 2 METs. Taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood, now you’re up to 3 or 4 METs. Moderate intensity physical activity is between 3 and 6 METs. Vigorous activity is defined as above 6 METs. While it’s not important for the average person to know the exact MET level of their favorite hobby or sport, it does help us quickly classify our activities by intensity. The chart on the following page is from the ACSM and shows the intensities of several common physical activities.
Moderate Intensity (3-6 METs)
Walking 3 mph = 3 MET
Walking 4 mph = 5 MET
General Carpentry = 3.6 MET
Shooting Baskets = 4.5 MET
Golf (walking the course) = 4.3 MET
Tennis Doubles = 5 MET
Non-Competitive Volleyball = 3-4 MET
Vigorous Intensity (>6 METs)
Walking 4.5 mph = 6.3 MET
Hiking (steep inclines) = 7.5-9 MET
Bicycling 12-14 mph = 8 MET
Tennis Singles = 8 MET
Basketball Game = 8 MET
Competitive Volleyball = 8 MET
Casual Soccer = 8 MET
Soccer Game = 10 MET
So, what does this all mean for your favorite outdoor activities and which are best? With an awareness of intensity, you can have hours of fun in the sun and rest assured that you’ve had a great workout. Want to meet your physical activity recommendation and spend quality time with your kids? Play a little one-on-one basketball every other day and you’ve done it. On vacation and unable to make it to the gym that week? Spend 3 hours walking the golf course and you’re there. The best workouts are the ones that don’t feel like work. Those are the activities that are going to keep you coming back for more!
Mason Stevens is owner and exercise physiologist at MET-Fitness in Columbia. He has his bachelor’s in nutrition and fitness and has more than 10 years of experience in sports conditioning, coaching and fitness.