Physical activities vary in terms of their intensity, duration, and the benefits they provide for your body. To get the most out of your exercise routine, it is recommended to include a variety of physical activities and work out at moderate to vigorous intensity levels to improve overall fitness and achieve health benefits.

Before you start engaging in any physical activity, take some time to learn more about the different levels of intensity to get more from your exercise routine.

How do I measure intensity? Intensity is how hard your body is working during physical activity. Let's take a look at how intensity levels are calculated and how to determine the right intensity levels to be working out in.

Activity Intensity Guide

To help you gauge more accurately how hard you have been exercising, you can use the Activity Intensity Guide below and access this link to calculate your heart-rate range to identify your exercise intensity level.

​Intensity Level
​Formula To Calculate Intensity Level
Talk Test​
57-63% of your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)​Able to talk and sing​
64-75% of your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)
Able to talk but not sing​
Vigorous​​76-95% of your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)Not able to talk or sing​

[Note: Maximum Heart Rate = 220 – Your Age]

Determining Your Level of Intensity

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. Count the number of beats for 15 seconds.

Your pulse can be felt on your wrists or the sides of your neck (just below the jawline).
Step 2Obtain your heart rate per minute by multiplying the number of beats by 4.
Step 3Using the Activity Intensity Guide above, 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 64-75% of this MHR, which is 116-135 bpm.

Light-Intensity Physical Activity

Light-intensity physical activity causes little to no increase in breathing and/or heart rate. You should be able to talk and sing during the activity. Examples include:

  • Walking slowly
  • Shopping
  • Light household chores (e.g., washing dishes, ironing/ folding clothes, making the bed)

Moderate-Intensity Physical Activity

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

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

Vigorous-Intensity Physical Activity

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

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

Note that the intensity levels for these activities may vary between individuals depending on the effort put in and an individual’s fitness level.

Reap the Health Benefits of Physical Activity

Now that you understand the difference in the types of intensity levels, it's time to get active.

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

Download the HealthHub app on Google Play or Apple Store to access more health and wellness advice at your fingertips.

Read these next:

  1. Singh, M. F., Hackett, D., Schoenfeld, B., Vincent, H. K., & Wescott, W. (2019, July 31). ACSM Guidelines for Strength Training.