By Eddie Phillips, MD

Hi. I’m Dr. Eddie Phillips. I’m a physician specializing in lifestyle medicine and board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Do you know hard you’re working when you exercise?

When my patients describe their exercise routines and physical activities, they often ask if they’re reaching the right level of intensity—too light, somewhere in the middle or at high levels.

Let’s look at five levels of exercise intensity and what they mean.

A light level of intensity feels easy. You’re breathing easily, warming up and able to talk or sing while doing it.

Light to moderate intensity is when you’re working but not too hard. You still are breathing easily but starting to sweat lightly. And it’s still easy to talk or sing.

Moderate exercise means that you’re working. You’re breathing faster, sweating more and able to talk but it would be difficult to sing.

At a moderate to high level of intensity, you’re really working. Breathing has changed to huffing and puffing. You’re sweating. And you can talk in short sentences but you’re much more focused on exercising than holding a conversation.

A high level means that you’re working very hard. You’re breathing hard, sweating a lot and finding it quite difficult to talk. This is very vigorous exercise.

Before you decide on a level of intensity for your exercise, it’s a good idea to talk with your physician. The right level will be based on your current health and fitness.
Once you set an exercise plan, stick with it to feel and even see the benefits!

Workout Workbook: 9 Complete Workouts to Help You Get Fit and Healthy. Harvard Health Publications, Gardiner J., Prouty J., Bean, J. (2014). Harvard Medical School Special Health Reports.

Edward Phillips, MD

Dr. Phillips is board certified in physical medicine & rehabilitation. He founded and directs the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine at Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical School and is co-founder and co-director of the Lifestyle Medicine Education Collaborative "LMEd."

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