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Physical Activity Guidelines to Help Get You In Motion

Physical Activity Guidelines to Help Get You In Motion

Shanel Hatfield Kaldahl DPT

Are you getting enough physical activity? The numbers vary widely according to the CDC from 17.7 -47.7% with a nationwide average of 15% of people who are classified as physically active (2020), that means as much as 85% of the United States population is not active enough. The World Health Organization identifies inactivity as one of the leading risk factors for death, a risk factor for many diseases, and that globally 1 in 4 people are not active enough (2020).

How much is enough? Well the answer to this question varies by age group. The following guidelines are taken from The Physical Activity guidelines for Americans (HHS Office and Council on Sports, 2019). Children ages 6-17 should be getting 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity and 3 days per week this should include muscle strengthening activities. Adults should be participating in 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. This could also be a combination of moderate to vigorous activity and should be spread throughout the week. Additionally adults should be participating in moderate difficulty strength training that involves all major muscle groups at least 2 days per week. Older adults should aim for the same guidelines as adults or as much as they are physically able to do. 

  • Children 60 minutes per day moderate to vigorous activity
  • Adults 75-300 minutes moderate to vigorous dependent on intensity level
  • Both groups should include strengthening activities, 2 days per week for adults and 3 days per week for children

What  is moderate to vigorous intensity activity? According to the American College of Sports medicine moderate intensity is 64-76% of your max heart rate and vigorous is 76-96% (2014).  Heart rate trackers can be helpful in tracking your heart rate in relation to activity intensity, many of these can also generically calculate the intensity level of your activity. An additional way to calculate this information is to calculate your own target heart rates by calculating your maximum heart rate and multiply by the previously outlined percentages. One way to calculate your max heart rate is to take 220 and subtract your age. For an even more accurate way to calculate your desired intensity use this equation, Target HR= [(HRmax- HRrest) x % intensity desired] + HR rest. FYI if algebra isn’t your strong suit there are calculators on the internet that will calculate it for you. An even easier way to track intensity is Rating of perceived exertion or a talk test. 

The Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion

Activity: Rating of perceived Exertion (example)                  

None: 6  (Reading, watching TV)

Very, Very Light: 7-8   (Tying shoes)

Very Light:  9-10 (Chores like folding clothes)

Fairly Light: 11-12 (Walking through grocery store, walking at a pace that doesn’t increase breathing)

Somewhat Hard: 13-14 (Brisk walking that increases breath and heart rate but doesn’t make you feel out of breath)

Hard: 15-16 (Bicycling, swimming, or activities that take vigorous effort and get the heart pounding and make breathing very fast)

Very Hard: 17-18 (The highest level of activity you can sustain)

Very, Very Hard: 19-20 (A finishing kick in a race or other burst of activity that you can’t maintain for long)

Many sources agree that moderate intensity activity is a rating of 12-14 and vigorous is 15 or greater on the Borg Scale. The talk test is that If you can carry a conversation but not sing then you are participating in moderate intensity activity, if you are only able to say a few words before needing a breath you are performing vigorous activity (CDC, 2020). 


Now that you know how much and how intense to make your physical activity here are some final tips. Remember that if an exercise routine is new to you make sure to start slowly and monitor for signs of poor tolerance such as  chest pain, dizziness, lightheadedness and joint pain. Additionally keep in mind that heart rate tracking is a tool that may not be accurate if you have comorbidities, are deconditioned or are in good cardiovascular condition. As always if muscle or joint pain is keeping you from the physical activity you enjoy contact us at In Motion Therapy to get you back to pain free motion. 


Adult Physical Inactivity Prevalence Maps by Race/Ethnicity. (2020, January 16). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/data/inactivity-prevalence-maps/index.html

Adult Physical Inactivity Prevalence Maps by Race/Ethnicity. (2020, January 16). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/data/inactivity-prevalence-maps/index.html

Borg G.A. Psychophysical bases of perceived exertion. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1982; 14:377-381.

HHS Office, and Council on Sports. “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.” HHS.gov, US Department of Health and Human Services, 1 Feb. 2019, www.hhs.gov/fitness/be-active/physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans/index.html.

Pescatello, L. S. (2014). ACSMs guidelines for exercise testing and prescription (9th ed.). Baltimore, MD: Wolters Kluwer, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

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