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Levels of exercise

There are many levels and kinds of exercise that can keep your body healthy. Learn more about different kinds of exercise and how they work!

Levels of exercise

There are three levels of physical activity.

  • Light – not sweating; not breathing hard (slow walking, dancing)
  • Moderate – breaking a sweat; can talk but can’t sing (walking fast, dancing)
  • Vigorous – sweating, breathing hard, can’t talk or sing (running, swimming laps)

No matter what level at which you are exercising, the activity can be one of three types: aerobic exercise, muscle-strengthening exercise, or bone-strengthening exercise.

It’s important to remember that as you exercise more and more, activities that were once vigorous may become moderate. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself! After several weeks or months of training, try jogging for longer distances or at a faster rate.

What kind of exercise does your body need?

Exercise should increase your heart rate and move the muscles in your body. Examples include swimming, dancing, skating, playing soccer, or riding a bike.

Exercise should include something from each of these four basic fitness areas:

  1. Cardio-respiratory endurance is the same thing as aerobic endurance. It means using your heart and lungs nonstop. When you exercise, your heart beats faster, sending more needed oxygen throughout your body. If you are not fit, your heart and lungs have to work harder during exercise. Long runs and swims are examples of activities that can help your heart and lungs work better over a long period of time.
    Girls swimming in race
  2. Muscular strength is the ability to move a muscle against a resistance. To become stronger, you need to push or pull against resistance, such as your own weight (like in push-ups), using free weights (note: talk to an instructor before using weights), or even pushing the vacuum cleaner. Regular exercise keeps all of your muscles strong and makes it easier to do daily physical tasks.

hand holding weight

  1. Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle, or a group of muscles, to keep pushing against resistance for a long period. Push-ups are often used to test endurance of arm and shoulder muscles. Aerobic exercise also helps to improve your muscular endurance. Activities such as running increase your heart rate and make your heart muscle stronger.
    Back of girl running
  2. Flexibility exercises stretch your muscles and make them long. Reaching for your toes is a good measure of flexibility of the lower back and backs of the upper legs. When you are flexible, you are able to bend and reach with ease. Being flexible can help prevent injuries like pulled muscles. This is why warming up and stretching are so important. If you force your body to move in a way that you aren’t used to, you risk tearing muscles, as well as ligaments and tendons (other parts of your musculoskeletal system). Yoga increases muscle-strength and flexibility.
  3. Girl doing split 

Examples of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activities and muscle- and bone-strengthening activities for children and adolescents

 

Type of Physical ActivityAge Group ChildrenAge Group Adults
Moderate–intensity aerobic
  • Active recreation, such as hiking, skateboarding, rollerblading
  • Bicycle riding
  • Brisk walking
  • Active recreation, such as canoeing, hiking, skateboarding, rollerblading
  • Brisk walking
  • Bicycle riding (stationary or road bike)
  • Housework and yard work, such as sweeping or pushing a lawn mower
  • Games that require catching and throwing, such as baseball and softball
Vigorous–intensity aerobic
  • Active games involving running and chasing, such as tag
  • Bicycle riding
  • Jumping rope
  • Martial arts, such as karate
  • Running
  • Sports such as soccer, ice or field hockey, basketball, swimming, tennis
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Active games involving running and chasing, such as flag football
  • Bicycle riding
  • Jumping rope
  • Martial arts, such as karate
  • Running
  • Sports such as soccer, ice or field hockey, basketball, swimming, tennis
  • Vigorous dancing
  • Cross-country skiing
Muscle-strengthening
  • Games such as tug-of-war
  • Modified push-ups (with knees on the floor)
  • Resistance exercises using body weight or resistance bands
  • Rope or tree climbing
  • Sit-ups (curl-ups or crunches)
  • Swinging on playground equipment/bars
  • Games such as tug-of-war
  • Push-ups and pull-ups
  • Resistance exercises with exercise bands, weight machines, hand-held weights
  • Climbing wall
  • Sit-ups (curl-ups or crunches)
Bone-strengthening
  • Games such as hopscotch
  • Hopping, skipping, jumping
  • Jumping rope
  • Running
  • Sports such as gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, tennis
  • Hopping, skipping, jumping
  • Jumping rope
  • Running
  • Sports such as gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, tennis

Note: Some activities, such as bicycling, can be moderate or vigorous intensity, depending upon level of effort
Source: 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, Chapter 3.

 

Content last reviewed July 24, 2013
Page last updated October 31, 2013

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