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Why moderate to vigorous intensity exercise is important for children and how to measure it.

“Although an activity of any intensity provides health benefits, greater intensity provides more benefits for the same amount of time. Activities need to be of at least moderate to vigorous intensity to achieve the full breadth of health benefits.” – UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines
What is moderate to vigorous intensity exercise?

Physical activity intensity relates to how hard a person has to work to complete the task or activity. Due to different factors including fitness levels, age and health conditions, some people will be able to complete tasks and activities more easily than others. 

What one person might do to reach moderate to vigorous intensity might differ to another, for example during a fitness workout things like the amount of reps completed, amount of weight used or the type of activity may need to be adapted to challenge someones fitness needs. 

Moderate to vigorous intensity activities can include:

  • Functional fitness

  • Weight lifting exercises

  • Invasion games

  • Swimming

 These types of activities are ones which will challenge someones fitness levels and have the most health related benefits such as increase in cardiovascular fitness. – WHO World Health Organisation.

How to measure Moderate to Vigorous Intensity exercise

 There are many different ways you can measure intensity levels to see whether you or someone you are working with is reaching moderate to vigorous intensity levels.

 1. Rate of Perceived Exertion

In the Go Well Fit for Life programme we use a Rate of Perceived Exertion chart to show the different rates of exercise – these are based on how you feel or look after exercise. 

 This is a quick and easy method which requires no equipment and helps children to understand how it looks and feels to be in the moderate to high intensity zone.  We ask children to aim for 6-8 on the scale.  Click here if you would like a free copy of the Fit for Life Rate of Perceived Exertion Poster.

2. NHS Definitions

The NHS provide the following definitions of intensity:

“Moderate intensity activities will raise your heart rate and make you breathe faster and feel warmer. One way to tell if you are working at a moderate intensity level is if you can still talk but not sing.” – NHS

 “Vigorous intensity activity makes you breathe hard and fast. If you are working at this level, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath. In general, 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity can give similar health benefits to 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity. Most moderate activities can become vigorous if you increase your effort.” – NHS

 So a simple ‘talk test’ at the end or during a session can give you a good indication of the what intensity levels children are reaching.

3. Heart Rate

 Heart Rate can be used to measure intensity levels.  The general calculation of maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age.  Therefore, if you are 20 years old your maximum heart rate would be 200BPM.  During exercise, to be working at vigorous intensity, you would need to raise your heart rate to 160BPM (80%).

There is, however, evidence to suggest that children tend to have lower maximum heart rates than the calculation shows.  Therefore, working from this calculation can lead to children exercising too hard which can cause dizziness and breathlessness.  That is not to say heart rate cannot be used to measure childrens’ exercise intensity, rather that caution should be taken and an accurate measure of each individual child’s maximum heart rate would be required to ensure safety.

 How this can help schools?

The Chief Medical Officers Guidelines recommend that children should have 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise per day.  Through the Active 30 agenda schools are responsible for providing at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity throughout the school-day. Break times, lunch times, PE lessons, active breaks in and outside the classroom and after school clubs are opportune times to implement some of the activities highlighted to support children to reach moderate to vigorous intensity.

So, if children want to have maximum health benefits then hitting moderate to vigorous intensity levels during physical activity is vital for this to happen.  Alongside this, measuring intensity levels is just as important so that children can have an understanding of how they look and feel when reaching the required intensity levels.

We hope you found this blog helpful.  For any further information please contact – matthewellison@go-well.org