What are the Three Types of activity?

Three types of activity are important for a complete physical activity programme: aerobic activity, muscle-strength training and flexibility exercises. In this section you can read how each type differs from one another and watch our videos on some simple strengthening and flexibility exercises which can be done at home.


Aerobic Activity

AerobicAerobic activity makes your heart and lungs work harder. Aerobic activity is any type of activity that uses large muscle groups. Health benefits are gained if you do this for at least 10 minutes at a time. Start slowly at a level that suits you. Gradually build up the frequency (how often), intensity (low, moderate or vigorous) and duration (how long) as you get stronger and feel more confident.

If you haven’t been active for some time, increase your activity level slowly and aim to reach the Physical Activity recommendations. Health benefits can be attained by carrying out moderate or vigorous intensity activity. Generally, 2 minutes of moderate intensity activity gives the same amount of health benefits as 1 minute of vigorous activity. The more time you spend, the more health benefits you receive. Do not worry if you struggle to meet the Guideline, because by trying to become more active, you are still gaining some health benefits.

Measuring intensity levels for your activity may be done by using one of the following three methods: a) Relative Intensity Method b) Absolute Intensity Method or the c) Heart Rate Method. Choose whichever method that suits you the best.

  • Relative Intensity Method
The relative intensity is related to a person’s level of fitness. This method of measurement is particular useful for people with long term health conditions, older adults and those who may have been inactive for a long time. The level of intensity is very much related to how your body responds to activity. If you feel warm, mildly out of breath and mildly sweaty you are doing moderate intensity work. The ‘talk test’ is a simple way to measure this too. If you’re doing moderate intensity activity, you can talk, but not sing, during activity.

Remember everyday activities, for example, DIY, gardening or climbing up stairs are part of you activity dose but remember that it is recommended that you do at least 10 minutes at a time for it to count. An unfit person may only have to walk up a slope to achieve relative moderate intensity, whereas a very fit athlete may be able to run quite fast before he or she gets out of breath. Over time, your fitness level will improve so that you will be able to walk faster with less effort before reaching moderate intensity levels. When doing a vigorous intensity activity, you will be breathing very hard, be short of breath and be unable to carry on a conversation.

  • Absolute Intensity Method

The absolute intensity is determined by the rate of work being performed for an activity and does not take into account a person’s current level of fitness. For many adults it does not matter a great deal whether they use relative or absolute intensity to guide level of effort. Examples of moderate and vigorous activities are listed below.

Moderate intensity activities (3-6 METs)* Vigorous intensity activities (>6METs)*
Painting/decorating Cycling 12–14mph
Walking (3 miles per hour or faster but not race-walking) Swimming – slow crawl 50 yards per minute
Vacuuming Tennis – singles
Golf walking, pulling clubs Running 6mph (10 minutes/mile)
Badminton social Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing)
Tennis – doubles
Mowing lawn
Cycling 10–12mph
Source: Department of Health (2004) At least five a week: Evidence on the impact of physical activity and its relationship to health. A report from the Chief Medical Officer *MET or metabolic equivalent is a unit describing energy expenditure of a specific activity. A MET is the ratio of the rate of energy expended during activity to the rate expended at rest. A 4 MET activity expends 4 times the energy used by the body at rest. 
  • Target Heart Rate Method

This method uses a person’s pulse or heart rate to determine the intensity levels. You can not use this method if you take a beta blocker medication or have an arrhythmia (e.g. atrial fibrillation). At moderate intensity, your heart is working at 50-70% of your maximum heart rate. For vigorous intensity, it is working at 70-85% of the maximum heart rate. The maximum heart rate can be worked out by subtracting your age from 220. So, a 40 year old person has an estimated maximum heart rate of 180 beats per minute (because 220-40=180bpm). When checking your heart rate, stop exercising, feel your wrist pulse by pressing lightly with the tips of your fingers and take a full 60 second count of the pulse.



Besides aerobic activity, you need to do things to strengthen your muscles and bones on at least 2 days a week. This helps to improve your posture, balance and muscle strength so that you can carry out your aerobic activities more successfully. These activities should work all the major muscle groups of your body (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms).

Moving against resistance helps increase strength. The amount of resistance or load depends on your physical condition. Start with simple movements with very little load to familiarize yourself with the action. Pushing against a wall or using a bag of sugar may be enough for you. If you are using dumbbells or resistance bands you need to determine the correct amount of weight by choosing the one that’s going to leave you tired after 10-12 repetitions. Start slowly and if you get pain then stop. It is very normal to get muscles soreness but if it last for more than a day you may find that you will need to lessen the resistance or number of repetitions. Once you are comfortable increase the number of repetitions and increase the resistance. See videos for some simple strengthening exercises that you can do at home.



Simple daily stretching exercises improve joint flexibility and keep muscles limber, thereby preventing injury as you do more aerobic activity. Even if you are fairly active, simple daily stretches of the neck, shoulder, wrists, hands, hips, knees, ankles and back takes our joints through the full range of motion to keeps them flexible and healthy. T’ai chi, bowls, yoga, pilates are some activities that can help with flexibility and mobility. Activities that focus on flexibility can help with relaxation and sense of well being. See videos for some simple flexibility exercises that you can do at home.

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