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Types of Physical Activity

The four main types of physical activity are aerobic, muscle-strengthening, bone-strengthening, and stretching. Aerobic activity benefits your heart and lungs the most.

Aerobic Activity

Aerobic activity moves your large muscles, such as those in your arms and legs. Running, swimming, walking, biking, dancing, and doing jumping jacks are examples of aerobic activity. Aerobic activity also is 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.

Other Types of Physical Activity

The other types of physical activity—muscle-strengthening, bone strengthening, and stretching—benefit your body in other ways.

Muscle-strengthening activities improve the strength, power, and endurance of your muscles. Doing pushups and situps, lifting weights, climbing stairs, and digging in the garden are examples of muscle-strengthening activities.

With 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. Running, walking, jumping rope, and lifting weights are examples of bone-strengthening activities.

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

Stretching helps improve your flexibility and your ability to fully move your joints. Touching your toes, doing side stretches, and doing yoga exercises are examples of stretching.

Levels of Intensity in Aerobic Activity

You can do aerobic activity with light, moderate, or vigorous intensity. Moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity is better for your heart than light-intensity activity. However, even light-intensity activity is better than no activity at all.

The level of intensity depends on how hard you have to work to do the activity. People who are less fit usually have to work harder to do an activity than people who are more fit. Thus, 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 tasks that don't require much effort. Moderate-intensity activities make your heart, lungs, and muscles work harder than usual.

On a scale of 0 to 10, moderate-intensity activity is a 5 or 6. It causes noticeable increases in breathing and heart rate. A person doing moderate-intensity activity can talk but not sing.

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. A person doing vigorous-intensity activity can't say more than a few words without stopping for a breath.

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:

  • Gardening, such as digging or hoeing that causes your heart rate to go up
  • Walking, hiking, jogging, and running
  • Water aerobics or swimming laps
  • Biking, skateboarding, rollerblading, and jumping rope
  • Ballroom dancing and aerobic dancing
  • Tennis, soccer, hockey, and basketball
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Physical Activity and Your Heart Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Physical Activity and Your Heart, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.


Physical Activity and Your Heart in the News

November 8, 2013
NIH and the Children's Museum of Manhattan launch innovative program to help families create healthier futures
Through an innovative public-private partnership, the National Institutes of Health and the Children's Museum of Manhattan (CMOM) have created a new health educational curriculum — EatPlayGrow: Creative Activities for a Healthy Start — for children ages 2-5 and their parents

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September 26, 2011 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.