Exercise Intensity: It’s Personal

You’ve probably walked with a friend who could carry on a conversation AND walk at a pace that left you gasping for air. The intensity of their workout was probably low to moderate while yours was moderate to high. Because each individual is different, it is suggested that you learn how to determine the intensity of your activity based on your heart rate or how you feel during the activity. Some devices can also help you to determine the intensity of the activity. 

How you feel during exercise is a subjective measure of how hard the activity feels to you while you are doing it. This is your perceived exertion level and may be very different for someone else doing the exact same activity. The easiest method is:

  • Low Intensity. Do the talk test: if you can talk and sing while exercising without running out of breath, then you are exercising at low intensity. These activities are generally done at around 40-60% of your maximum heart rate.
  • Moderate Intensity. Feels somewhat harder for you. Your breathing quickens, but you’re not out of breath. You develop a light sweat after about 10 minutes of activity. You can carry on a conversation, but you can’t sing. These activities are generally done at 50-70% of your maximum heart rate.
  • High Intensity. Feels challenging for you. Your breathing is deep and rapid. You develop a sweat after only a few minutes of activity. You can’t say more than a few words without pausing for breath. These activities are generally done at 70-85% of your maximum heart rate.

Your heart rate offers a more objective look at the activity intensity. In general, the higher your heart rate during physical activity, the higher the intensity. You can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. For example: if you are 45 years old, you will subtract 45 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 175. Once you know your maximum heart rate you can use an online heart rate calculator to figure your desired target heart rate zone. Low intensity is 40-60% of your maximum heart rate, moderate intensity will be 50-70% of your maximum heart rate, high intensity is 70-85% of your maximum heart rate.

To figure out whether you are exercising within the target heart rate zone, you must briefly stop exercising to take your pulse. You can take your pulse at your neck or wrist by placing the tips of the index and middle fingers over the artery and pressing lightly. (Do not use your thumb.) Take a 15-second count of the heartbeats, and multiply by 4 to determine your beats per minute. 

Be aware of what is good for you. Push yourself, but not past your limits of comfort. Always remember that everyone is different and that is OK.

Source: Complete Wellness Solutions, Completely Well Newsletter, July 2023

Exercise Intensity: It’s Personal
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