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Moderate-to-Vigorous Physical Activity for Best Fitness

Large study validates improvements from higher-intensity training.

Two people doing moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by running

Data from the Framingham Heart Study—ongoing since 1948—shows that even short bouts of 17 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity leads to higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness than achieving 4,000+ steps per day.

Boston University researchers looked at data from 2,070 subjects who were assessed at two intervals approximately 8 years apart. One group walked more than 4,300 steps per day. The second group participated in daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. The third group made an effort to reduce daily sedentary time by 4 hours per day.

The team found that moderate-vigorous physical activity was the most efficient way to improve fitness—three times efficient than walking at a slow pace and more than 14 times more efficient than reducing sedentary time.

Walking is a moderate-to-vigorous activity if it’s performed at a cadence of 100 steps per minute or more. Anything slower is considered low-level exertion. A valuable finding is that higher levels of inactivity can be offset by consistent moderate-to-vigorous exercise or by increasing daily step counts.

The study is available in the European Heart Journal (2021; 24 [2], 4565–75).

See also: Moderate Activity to Avoid Hypertension

Shirley Eichenberger-Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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