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AICR HealthTalk

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: How fast do I need to walk for it to count toward the recommended 30 minutes of moderate activity daily?

Walking Legs in Warmups, Autumn

A: You can find reputable sources with lists of activities that identify your activity’s intensity – labeled as light, moderate or vigorous. For example, walking as moderate activity typically refers to “brisk walking” at a pace of three and-a-half miles per hour, whereas very fast walking (at four-and-a-half miles per hour) or jogging (five miles per hour) is classified as vigorous activity. But these categories don’t necessarily work for everyone. One easy way to estimate your activity intensity is to tune in to how you are feeling. Based on a 10-point scale, where sitting is 0 and working as hard as you can is 10, moderate aerobic activity is a 5 or 6. Moderate activity means you breathe a little harder, and although you can talk, you can’t comfortably sing a song. In contrast, vigorous activity is a 7 or 8 on this scale, with heart rate substantially increased and breathing hard enough that you can’t say more than a few words without stopping to catch your breath.

For researchers, moderate activity is activity during which heart rate is at 50 to 70 percent of estimated maximum heart rate, whereas activity is vigorous if heart rate goes up to 70 to 85 percent of estimated maximum.

Keep in mind the heart rate that represents “moderate” activity varies among individuals, and the walking pace that brings someone to that heart rate will vary, too. For example, someone who has been inactive or who is recovering from illness or surgery might find activity “moderate” in intensity when walking at a pace slower than expected based on a standard formula. Likewise, someone who is very fit might walk at a pace rapid enough that would be vigorous for some people, but with a small enough increase in heart rate that it’s moderate exercise for him or her. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, moderate activity that you do in blocks of 10 minutes or more counts toward the goal of at least 30 minutes a day; if you can total 60 minutes, that’s even better.

Are Your Active Enough? Take our quiz to find out.


The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF).

Published on 05/25/2015

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