What types of physical activities do I need?​

When engaging in regular physical activity or planning your physical activity routine, it is important for you to know the types of physical activity that you should engage in and the benefits they provide:

Aerobic activity makes you breathe harder and your heart beat faster, as a result, increases heart and lung fitness. Examples include brisk walking, dancing, cycling, jogging, swimming and playing basketball.

Muscle-strengthening activity increase bone strength and muscular fitness. Such activities should work all the major muscle groups of your body, that is, the legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms. Examples include doing exercises that use your body weight for resistance (e.g. push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and squats), working with resistance band and weight training.

How much aerobic activity do I need?

To gain health benefits, it is recommended that a healthy adult engages in either:​​
  • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week, or
  • 20 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, 3 or more days a week.

The good news is that you can:

  • Combine moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity in a week for more variety.
  • Do the aerobic activity in segments of at least 10 minutes. You don't have to do the 20 or 30 minutes at one go.

How do I measure intensity?

Intensity is how hard your body is working during aerobic activity. Let's take a look at the difference between moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity activities.

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity causes a slight increase in breathing and heart rate. However, you are still able to talk but not sing during the activity. You should also be perspiring. Examples include:

  • Brisk walking (5 km/hr)
  • Leisure cycling (<16 km/hr)
  • Leisure swimming
  • Playing doubles tennis
  • Line-dancing

Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity

Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity will cause your heart rate to increase significantly. You will find yourself breathing hard and fast and it will find it hard to hold a conversation with someone.

Examples of vigorous-intensity physical activity include:

  • Jogging or running
  • Swimming continuous laps
  • Playing singles tennis
  • Rollerblading at fast pace
  • Playing basketball or football
  • Skipping with a rope

These activities may vary in intensity between individuals depending on the effort put in and their fitness levels.

To help you gauge more accurately how hard you have been exercising, you can use the Intensity Guide below. If you prefer to exercise at moderate intensity, you should work towards 70%-80% of your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). 

If you are aiming for vigorous intensity, you should work towards 80%-85% of your Maximum Heart Rate. [Note: Maximum Heart Rate = 220 – Your Age]

Take the following steps to determine your desired intensity:

​Step 1

​At the end of your activity, take your pulse to measure your heart rate.

Your pulse can be felt on your wrists and neck. Count the number of beats for 15 seconds

​Step 2​Obtain your heart rate by multiplying the number of beats by 4.
​Step 3

​Using the Intensity Guide below, read off from your Age and calculated heart rate (in Step 2) to determine whether you have been exercising in your desired intensity.


For example, if you are 40 years old, your MHR is 220–40 = 180 beats per minute (bpm).

For moderate-intensity physical activity, a 40-year-old should therefore aim for 60-80% of this MHR, which is 108-144 bpm.


How much muscle-strengthening activity do I need?

Besides aerobic activity, you should also engage in activities that strengthen your muscles on 2 or more days a week. Muscle-strengthening activity (also known as strength training) should work all the major muscle groups of your body, that is, the legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms.

Muscle-strengthening activity helps to:

  • Develop stronger muscles and bones. It increases bone density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Control your weight. As you gain muscle, your body's metabolism rate increases, thus enabling it to burn calories more efficiently.
  • Reduce the risk of injury. Stronger muscles are able to support your joints better, thus preventing them from injury. In addition, strength training increases neural functioning, improving reaction time, thus preventing injurious falls.

Muscle-strengthening activity can be done either at home or in a gym. Examples include:

  • Exercises that use your body weight as resistance, such as push-ups, sit-ups, abdominal crunches, pull-ups and leg squats.
  • Working with resistance bands. Resistance bands (or resistance tubing) is inexpensive, lightweight and can be bought at stores selling sports equipment.
  • Lifting weights. You can use either free weights such as dumbbells, or work out on the weight machines in a gym or fitness centre.

Muscle-strengthening activities should be performed to the point at which it is difficult to do another repetition. A repetition is one complete movement of an activity, like lifting weights or doing sit-ups. You can:

  • Perform the muscle-strengthening activities on the same or different days that you do aerobic activity.
  • Start once a week with lighter weights, completing at least 8-12 repetitions. Over time, start increasing the weight while performing the same number of repetitions.

Muscle strengthening activities should include 8-10 different exercises that work the various large muscle groups.

Let's get active!

Now that you know the types of physical activity for health benefits, it's time to get active. Use the recommendations as a guide to help you in your journey of health and fitness.

Everyone can enjoy physical activity. However, if you have not been active and have a medical condition such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma, do consult your doctor on the type and amount of physical activity suitable for you.