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Understanding Health Benefits of Different Physical Activity Levels


Updated February 15, 2014

woman walking

Walking for 30 minutes most days a week is an example of moderate activity.

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The benefits of becoming more physically active go well beyond improving your appearance or fitting into a certain clothing size. Getting enough exercise can significantly reduce your chances of developing a number of serious health problems. Knowing the important health benefits of exercise can help you stay motivated to keep moving when you feel like giving in.

Different physical activity levels bring different health benefits. The more often you are active, the more likely you are to experience the health benefits doing so can bring. Let's take a look at four different physical activity levels and their respective health benefits.


Sedentary Lifestyle

A sedentary or inactive lifestyle refers to exercising fewer than three times per week. A sedentary lifestyle contributes directly to weight gain and eventually, obesity. Inactivity tends to decrease the sense of overall well-being and can increase the risk of developing certain health problems and diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.


Lifestyle Activity

Lifestyle physical activity refers to activities you do regularly as a part of your everyday life. These types of activities typically burn about 150 calories a day for the average person.

The following are examples of moderate lifestyle activity:


  • Walking to and from work, 15 minutes each way
  • Raking leaves, 30 minutes
  • Playing basketball, 20 minutes

The health benefits of a regular lifestyle activity include: Better blood cholesterol levels, reduced body fat, controlled blood pressure, and improved metabolic health. Those who are moderately active also experience improved quality of life and typically have a lower risk of developing chronic disease.


Moderate Exercise Program

A moderate exercise program refers to participating in some type of cardiorespiratory endurance exercise for at least 20 to 60 minutes, three to five days per week. This can also include strength training and stretching exercises.

Someone following a moderate exercise program might do one of the following:


Those who follow a moderate exercise program experience all the benefits of regular lifestyle physical activity. They also achieve improved physical fitness in the form of increased cardiorespiratory endurance, improved muscular strength and endurance, and greater flexibility. Moderate exercisers experience an even greater improvement in overall health, quality of life, and reduction of chronic disease risk.


Vigorous Exercise Program

A vigorous exercise program refers to exercising for 20 to 60 minutes most days a week, which may include aerobic exercise, interval training, strength training and stretching exercises.

Someone who pursues a vigorous exercise program may perform all of the following activities:


  • Running for 45 minutes, three days per week
  • Doing intervals, two days per week
  • Weight training, three days per week

Those who follow a vigorous exercise program experience all the benefits of lifestyle physical activity and a moderate exercise program; they also see a greater increase in fitness. Additionally, there is a somewhat greater reduction in chronic disease risk for those who follow a vigorous exercise program.

It's important to note that a vigorous exercise program can increase the risk of injury and overtraining.


Roth, Walton, et al. Fit & Well: Concepts and Labs in Physical Fitness and Wellness 5th Ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill College, 2002.

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