Medical studies and experts recommend that we get a certain amount of moderate exercise each week. But, what exactly is moderate exercise? How can we tell if the exercise we’re incorporating into our routines is enough?

Everyone is different, that’s a given. So exercise guidelines are exactly that – guidelines. They’re not hard and fast rules, but something to use as a marker. Are you exercising for your health? For competition? To improve how you look? Just for fun? These all play a role in what kind of exercise you do, how often and for how long.

150 Minutes per Week

The most common recommendation for healthy adults to stay fit and healthy is 150 minutes per week of moderate activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity). Of course, more is better, and the Mayo Clinic says that you’ll get even more health benefits if you double the total time. These minutes should be spread out over a week though, rather than one or two intense weekly sessions.

Moderate activity is enough movement that you know you’re exercising, but you’re not exhausting yourself – that’s heading into vigorous activity. Of course, how you feel while you’re exercising also depends on how fit you are. What might be a moderate run for one person may be an exhausting trek for another. So, it’s quite subjective.

Determining Your Heart Rate

Your heart rate can also clue you in to how hard you are exercising. The higher it is during your activity, the harder your body is working. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who are doing moderate-intensity physical activity should have a target heart rate based on their age.

To figure this out, first you determine your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. A 35-year-old would have a maximum heart rate of 185 beats per minute (bpm), while a 70-year-old would have a maximum rate of 150 bpm.

Once you have that maximum bpm, your target rate is between 64% and 76% of that. The easiest way to calculate this is to take the maximum rate and multiply it by 0.64 (for the 64%); then multiply the maximum rate by 0.76 (for the 76%). The 35-year-old would have a moderate exercise intensity target rate of between 118 bpm and 140 bpm. The 70-year-old’s target rate is 96 bpm to 114 bpm.

If you’re more into vigorous intensity, your target range should be 77% to 93% of your maximum bpm. That means taking your maximum number and multiplying it by 0.77 and 0.93.

Examples of Moderate Intensity Exercise

Keeping in mind that everyone’s perception of intense exercise may be different, here are some common activities that are considered to be moderate intensity:

  • Brisk walks
  • Swimming
  • Heavier housework (washing windows, vacuuming)
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Playing doubles tennis
  • Cycling less than 10 miles per hour
  • Golfing (walking between holes)
  • Dancing

You should be breathing harder, but not out of breath. If you’re exercising with a partner, you should be able to carry on a conversation.

Lifting Weights Counts Too

While lifting weights doesn’t count as an aerobic activity that gets your heart pumping, it’s an important part of a good exercise program. Strength training helps you with your aerobic activity, but it also helps strengthen your bones. Strong legs can also help you maintain your balance. But don’t be scared off by the term “lifting weights.” Strength training can involve dumbbells, barbells or machines, but you can also use resistance bands or your own body weight to strengthen your muscles.

Ask for Help

If you’ve never followed an exercise program before, the first thing you should do is speak with your doctor or nurse practitioner, especially if you have a chronic disease or condition. Even people who have significant restrictions can find some way of moving their body, but you need to be sure about what you can safely do.

Once you’ve gotten the go-ahead, consider seeing a trainer or an athletic therapist to help you develop a program that not only fits your needs, but one that you’ll actually do. There are multiple websites, blogs and YouTube videos that show various exercises. Be aware that it’s very easy to do some exercises incorrectly, and this can lead to injury.

No Time to Exercise?

It’s not always easy to find time to incorporate exercise into our daily routines, but there are ways. Here are some tips:

  • Start small. Even 5 to 10 minutes of exercise can make a difference
  • Cycle with your children
  • If you have children still in strollers, buy a jogging stroller and get in your miles that way
  • Dance in the house with your kids or alone
  • Go on daily strolls with a friend or neighbor
  • Use the stairs at work, not just when you get there, but during breaks and at lunch
  • Get off the bus or subway a few blocks away from work or home, and walk the rest of the way
  • Wake up a half hour earlier to squeeze in an exercise session
  • Exercise while watching your favorite TV show, or listening to a podcast or audiobook