What Is Vigorous Exercise?

People use heart rate to define vigorous exercise.
A swimmer can push his workout to make it a vigorous exercise.
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  • Written By: Tania Lakey
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 10 December 2014
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Vigorous exercise is typically defined as when a person's heart rate is severely increased and causes the body to take rapid breaths. Body type, fitness level, and maximum heart rate all play a role in determining vigorous exercise. One of the easiest ways to determine if someone is performing vigorous exercise is to use the talk test — a person's level of activity can be determined by the level and intensity at which the person can speak while performing exercise. If the subject is able to speak at length, then it generally is considered light to moderate activity; if the subject is only able to speak a few words in between heavy breaths, then it generally can be considered vigorous.

A person's body type and fitness level all play a part in the level and severity of any exercise activity. Walking uphill, for instance, may be vigorous activity for one person but may be moderate activity for the next. The common denominator is how the body handles the activity. If the body reacts by having an elevated heart rate with increased heavy breathing, then the person is likely performing vigorous exercise. The American Heart Association recommends that people perform vigorous exercise for at least 20 minutes a day, three days per week.


Oftentimes, it is more concrete to define vigorous exercise by the heart rate. The target heart rate for vigorous exercise typically is 85 to 95 percent of the maximum heart rate. Maximum heart rate is determined by taking a person's age and subtracting it from 220. For example, if a person is 30 years old, the maximum heart rate would be 190 beats per minute.

Exceeding the target heart rate can be dangerous for the athlete, leading to possible heart failure and other detrimental effects on the body. Because the heart reacts based on a person's fitness level, it will only pump faster as the subject performs exercise to a vigorous level for his or her body. This means that if the athlete is in better health and fitness, the heart rate will not increase as much by walking as someone who is less athletic.

In addition to general health and fitness benefits the athlete may see, there can be a marked improvement in endurance by regularly performing vigorous exercise. By pumping faster, the heart also receives a workout and can improve the body's blood circulation system. Swimming, martial arts, and team sports are all examples of this type of elevated exercise. Routines can be made increasingly more difficult as the body becomes adjusted to the exercise level so that it may continue to be a beneficial workout for the body and the heart.


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Post 3

What exercise would you not do for someone with a aortic heart valve, because i work out with weights and have also been a fighter most of my life but got diagnosed with this. please let me know. Thank you.

Post 2

Moldova- I have to agree with you there. Swimming is definitely an intense form of exercise. But I have always wanted to try martial arts.

I hear that Aikido not only offers a higher level of intensity in your workout, but also teaches self-defense which is great. I like the fact that they offer certain color belts based on your progress. It sounds like a fun challenge.

Post 1

Good article- I agree that swimming is definitely a vigorous exercise.

I am an avid jogger and jog about 3 miles a day for about four days a week, which is not difficult, but the minute that I try to swim laps I can feel the difference in intensity almost immediately.

After about two laps, which do not take much time, I have to catch my breath because my heart is beating so fast.

I enjoy swimming, but it is one of the most vigorous forms of exercise out there.

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