Lower Risk for Heart Disease? Better Cognitive Health? Yes, please!

Thanks to Jackie Osborne, physical therapist from Jacksonville, FL and Peer Educator Extraordinaire, we have a wonderful exercise tip for heart month.

Adults who are physically active have a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, dementia, colon cancer and breast cancer (1) than those who are sedentary. Additionally, physically active people have higher functional abilities, a lower risk of falling, and better cognitive health (1).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or engage in at least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week (2) to reap the benefits of physical activity.  But even if you are ready to commit to such recommendations it can be a challenge to truly understand the terminology included in these recommendations. So, some definitions are in order.

First, what does being “physically active” or “sedentary” actually mean?  According to the World Health Organization, physical activity includes (1):
•    Leisure time physical activity
•    Transportation such as walking or riding a bike
•    Occupational or work related activity
•    Performing household chores
•    Playing games
•    Engaging in sports
•    Performing planned exercise

Sedentary behavior refers to any activity that is equivalent to the energy expended while sitting or lying down (3). Sedentary behavior can be further quantified by considering how much time you spend engaged in “screen” time such as with your TV or computer, or how much time you might spend in a car or on a bus. 

Second, what is “aerobic” activity and how do you know if you are doing it at a “moderate intensity” or a “vigorous intensity”? Aerobic activity is generally understood as activity that utilizes your heart and your lungs in a way that increases your heart rate and your breathing rate more than when you are still or moving at your preferred pace for your regular activities. 

A physiologic measure known as the metabolic equivalent or MET defines the energy cost of certain physical activities and can be used to determine what physical activities engage you at an intensity that is beyond your preferred pace.

Activities that are between 3 and 6 METs can be considered moderate intensity and those over 6 METs can be considered vigorous intensity (1). Sedentary behavior is characterized by less than or equal to 1.5 METs (3). The chart below (3,4) matches a physical activity with its metabolic equivalent to help you judge if you have been engaging in moderately and vigorously intense physical activities.

Activity METs   Activity METs   Activity METs
Sleeping 0.92   Shuffleboard 3.00   Water aerobics 4.00
Watching TV 1.33   Walking down stairs 3.00   Ballroom or line dancing 4.50
Using a computer 1.90   Fishing from a river bank 3.50   Golf, walking & carrying clubs 4.50
Walking around home 2.00   Vacuuming 3.50   Mowing lawn, push mower 5.50
Doing laundry 2.07   Gardening 3.66   Stationary cycling (moderate effort) 7.00
Grocery shopping 2.16   Brisk walking (3.5 mph) 3.80   Racquetball or tennis 7.00

Playing the piano

2.50   Bicycling (<10 mph) 4.00   Carrying 15# upstairs 9.00
Stationary cycling (light effort) 3.00   Tai chi 4.00   Stationary cycling  (vigorous effort)   10.50




1. World Health Organization. Global recommendations on physical activity for health, ages 65 years and above. http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_olderadults/en/.Accessed Jan. 26, 2017.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical Activity. http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactvity/basics/older_adults/.  Accessed on Jan. 26, 2017.
3. Sedentary Behaviour Research Network. 2012. Standardized use of the terms “sedentary” and “sedentary behaviours.”  Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 37: 540–542.
4. The Compendium of Physical Activities Tracking Guide.   http://prevention.sph.sc.edu/tools/docs/documents_compendium.pdf. Accessed on Jan. 26, 2017


Melissa Ford Cox is an American Bone Health Peer Educator.  She is a nutrition educator and health coach with a Master’s Degree in Applied Nutrition. Before getting her MA, she worked in marketing and communications industries. She is passionate about bone health because people can make a big difference every day by what they eat and how they play.

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