Sunday, 26th March 2023

Types of exercise

In my last Blog I described the FITT principles of exercise – Frequency, Intensity, Time (duration), T the Type of exercise. This week it is all about Type.

Any sort of movement can be called exercise but to qualify as meaningful exercise I propose that the intensity should at least reach light – say 2 or more on the Borg scale which I described last time. The two important elements of exercise are movement which has the power to increase cardio respiratory fitness and muscular effort which increases strength. Both are important and nearly all exercise combine a mixture of the two, though one or other usually predominates. For instance running and cycling are mainly movement exercises which boost cardio respiratory fitness.  Weight lifting involves mainly muscular effort and increases strength.

The intensity of different exercises

The effectiveness of exercise in improving cardio-respiratory fitness (CRF) or strength depends upon how long, how hard and how often the exercise is performed.  Here is a table which indicates the levels of intensity involved in commonly performed exercise:

Physical activity Borg value VO2


Light-intensity activities < 3    
Sleeping 0.9 3.1 63
Watching television 1.0 3.5 70
Writing, desk work, typing 1.5 5.2 106
Strolling, 1.7mph (2.7km/h), level ground 2.3 8.1 162
Walking, 2.5 mph (4km/h) 2.9 10.1 205
Moderate-intensity activities 3 to 6    
Stationary bicycling, 50 watts, very light 3.0 10.5 212
Walking 3mph (4.8km/h) 3.3 11.5 233
Playing golf 3.5 12.2 247
Calisthenics, home exercise, light or moderate effort 3.5 12.2 247
Walking 3.4mph (5.5km/h) 3.6 12.6 254
Cycling, <10mph (16km/h) 4.0 14.0 282
Doubles tennis 5.0 17.5 353
Heavy gardening 5.5 19.2 388
Cycling, stationary, 100 watts, light 5.5 19.2 388
Sexual activity 5.8 20.3 409
Vigorous-intensity activities > 6    
Jogging 7.0+ 24.5+ 494
Singles tennis, squash, racketball 7.0–12.0 24.5–42.0 494–847
Calisthenics (e.g. push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, star jumps, vigorous effort 8.0 28.0 565
Running on the spot 8.0 28.0 565
Rope skipping 10.0 35.0 706

Three columns show how hard the exercise usually feels judged by the Borg score (between 0 and 10), the oxygen consumption – VO2 – which I will explain in a future blog, and the Calories per hour expended by the particular exercise.

Estimating Exercise Dose

Only walking, running and cycling at particular speeds can give a more-or-less accurate idea of how hard an exercise really is. And even these are dependent on such variables as how hilly is the terrain and which way the wind is blowing.

For every other exercise, energy expenditure depends upon how much oomph is put into it. The figures given alongside the exercises in the table are approximate values for someone trying quite hard!  The value of making this approximation is to help work out the the duration and frequency of exercise taken – and whether that accords with the recommendation of the health police.

Just to remind you, the DoH recommends that you take 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise.

Next time I will talk about other ways of deciding how to take enough exercise to benefit health.


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