Learn first 5 steps of the Physical Activity Pyramid

jeremy bishop HcgK4WoBwzg unsplash
jeremy bishop HcgK4WoBwzg unsplash

If you don’t yet know what the “Physical Activity Pyramid” is,

 it’s basically the official recommendation by the American Heart Association to adults about how much physical activity to be getting.

Here are the first five steps of the pyramid, in order:

1. Moderate exercise (30 minutes) at least 5 days per week.

2. Vigorous exercise (20 minutes) at least 3 days per week. 

3. Muscle strengthening activities (8-12 exercises or their equivalents for 10-15 repetitions each day). 

4. Flexibility stretching exercises (10-15 exercises for 10-30 second each, 2 times each day). 

5. Daily activity like active rest, housework, gardening (active standing and light lifting is included). 

If you want to get a bit more elaborate, there’s a visual pyramid chart called the “Physical Activity Pyramid of Health” that has this image:

If you’re over 50 years old, you can add:

Less than 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week (equivalent to 20 minutes of brisk walking or 15 minutes of jogging, or 30 minutes of swimming or aerobic classes)

First Level: Get150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week (walking briskly). 

Second Level: Boost that number to 300 minutes per week, or just 20 minutes per day (for example walking briskly for 30 minutes). 

Third Level: Aim for 400 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week (jogging slowly for 40 minutes). 

Fourth Level: Do five 30 minute sessions per week, with a few minutes for recovery (for example one hour jogging slowly). 

Fifth Level: Get 500 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week (jogging slowly for 60 minutes). 

The “physical activity pyramid” would be incomplete without a recommendation on how to improve it. So here you go!

One way that improvement can be made is by adding more physical activity to your current 


As it turns out, you’re already doing a lot of physical activity if you get 10,000 steps most days of the week. 

Just make sure those 10,000 steps include all five levels. Also consider adding some meditative walking or yoga practice.

Fifth Level: Get 50,000 steps most days of the week by adding 5,000 steps to your daily routine

As you can see, the American Heart Association recommends that we constantly strive to increase our levels of physical activity. 

Play with the numbers and choose your own targets.

This resource was reviewed by Jim Pendergast, MD, ACC for accuracy prior to publication. 

When considering the benefits of physical activity, 

a study in 2007 indicated that the elderly have a greater benefit than younger adults

 due to their longer life expectancy and lower cardiovascular risk factor levels in later years. 

“The greatest gains in health associated with moderate amounts of exercise occurred among the elderly”. 

In this study, the health benefits of physical activity were measured by length of survival and quality of life.

However, a study done in 2000 indicated that those who are already at a healthy weight, 

or those who are not obese, will not see any additional benefits for physical activity alone. 

This indicates that exercise alone may not be enough to prevent obesity; instead changes to diet which leads to reductions in calories may be needed.

Therefore, both groups benefit from aerobic activity but more so the elderly. 

This is a great reason to encourage us to keep moving and exercise. where would the following activity best fit on the physical activity pyramid?

Are you confused about what physical activity you should be getting? 

Do you remember your last physical education class in school?

 If not, don’t worry! We’ve created this guide to the Physical Activity Pyramid to help you decide what kind of activity is right for you.

The Physical Activity Pyramid suggests that aerobic exercise is the best way to get fit. 

Aerobic exercise is simply cardiorespiratory activity – it gets your heart rate pumping, puts you in the “fat burn” zone, and helps you maintain a healthy heart. 

Cardiorespiratory activity can be aerobic (like walking or running), it can be anaerobic (like weight lifting or sprinting), 

or it can be a combination of both (like tennis or jogging). The key is that it increases your heart rate and keeps it there for at least 20 minutes.

. Each of these types of activity can have their benefits, and all are usually recommended for different goals: 

strength training, flexibility exercises, and daily activities are more beneficial 

when trying to achieve a healthy lifestyle than intense bursts of exercise (aerobic and anaerobic), 

both in terms of health benefits and ability to maintain a fitness program over time.


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