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Types of Physical Activity

The four main types of physical activity are:

  • aerobic
  • muscle-strengthening
  • bone-strengthening
  • stretching.

Aerobic activity is the type that benefits your heart and lungs the most.


 Aerobic Activity

man wearing goggles, swimming in poolAerobic activity moves your large muscles, such as those in your arms and legs. Examples of aerobic activity are:

  • running
  • swimming
  • walking
  • bicycling
  • dancing
  • doing jumping jacks.

Aerobic activity is also called “endurance activity”.

Aerobic activity makes your heart beat faster than usual. You also breathe harder during this type of activity. Over time, regular aerobic activity makes your heart and lungs stronger and able to work better.


Muscle-Strengthening Activity

man and woman working in yard, raking leavesMuscle-strengthening activities improve the strength, power, and endurance of your muscles. Examples of muscle-strengthening activities are:

  • doing pushups and situps
  • lifting weights
  • climbing stairs
  • digging in the garden.

Muscle-strengthening activities also can be aerobic, depending on whether they make your heart and lungs work harder than usual. For example, climbing stairs is both an aerobic activity and a muscle-strengthening activity.


Bone-Strengthening Activity

family with 3 children (girls) walking dog along shoreWith bone-strengthening activities, your feet, legs, or arms support your body’s weight, and your muscles push against your bones. This helps make your bones strong. Examples of bone-strengthening activities are:

  • running
  • walking
  • jumping rope
  • lifting weights.


 Bone-strengthening activities also can be aerobic, depending on whether they make your heart and lungs work harder than usual. For example, running is both an aerobic activity and a bone-strengthening activity.



African American senior gentleman sitting on exercise mat, legs extended in front, streching with fingertips to touch toes Stretching helps improve your flexibility and your ability to fully move your joints.   Examples of stretching are:


  • touching your toes
  • doing side stretches
  • doing yoga exercises.



Levels of Intensity in Aerobic Activity

You can do aerobic activity with light, moderate, or vigorous intensity. Moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activities are better for your heart than light-intensity activities. However, even light-intensity activities are better than no activity at all.woman wearing light blue tank top jogging in wooded area

The level of intensity depends on how hard you have to work to do the activity. To do the same activity, people who are less fit usually have to work harder than people who are more fit.  So, for example, what is light-intensity activity for one person may be moderate-intensity for another.


Light- and Moderate-Intensity Activities

Light-intensity activities are common daily activities that do not require much effort.

Moderate-intensity activities make your heart, lungs, and muscles work harder than light-intensity activities do.

On a scale of 0 to 10, moderate-intensity activity is a 5 or 6 and produces noticeable increases in breathing and heart rate. If you are doing moderate-intensity activity, you can talk but not sing.oriental woman with ponytail, wearing yellow tank top, running


Vigorous-Intensity Activities

Vigorous-intensity activities make your heart, lungs, and muscles work hard.

On a scale of 0 to 10, vigorous-intensity activity is a 7 or 8. If you are doing vigorous-intensity activity, you cannot say more than a few words without stopping for a breath.


Get  more help with:

Measuring Physical Activity Intensity  (CDC)

What Counts as Aerobic Activity (CDC) –video   


Examples of Aerobic Activities

Below are examples of aerobic activities. Depending on your level of fitness, they can be light, moderate, or vigorous in intensity:

  • Pushing a grocery cart around a store
  • Gardening, such as digging or hoeing that causes your heart rate to go up
  • Walking, hiking, jogging, running
  • Water aerobics or swimming laps
  • Bicycling, skateboarding, rollerblading, and jumping rope
  • Ballroom dancing and aerobic dancing
  • Tennis, soccer, hockey, and basketball


Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.  Physical Activity and your Heart.


For more information:

Go to the Healthy Weight Center health topic.