Vigorous physical activity, sometimes known as high-intensity exercise, aids cardiovascular health, among other health benefits.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous activity for adults spread throughout the week.

Older adults should also include balance training and muscle-strengthening activity. Pregnant people should be under the care of a medical professional.

This article examines the definition of physical activity, the benefits, and risks, how to modify activities, examples, warmups, and cooldowns.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vigorous activity involves labored breathing that is hard and fast and a substantial increase in heart rate.

A simple way to measure the level of activity is the talk test. Vigorous activity prevents more than a few words without pausing for breath.

Metabolic equivalents (METs) are the measurement of vigorous physical activity. METs are the amount of oxygen a person consumes while resting. So, when an activity is 2 METs, a person uses twice the amount of oxygen they would use at rest.

Moderate physical activities range between 3 and 6 METs, while vigorous physical activities rank above 6 METs.

Vigorous physical activity creates a variety of beneficial health effects in the body. These include:

The benefits of physical exercise are well known, but exercising comes with some risk of muscular injury and cardiovascular complications.

Musculoskeletal injuries are common and often relate to the type of activity, intensity, preexisting conditions, and physical anomalies.

Cardiovascular events are much less common than musculoskeletal injuries and generally occur in conjunction with congenital or hereditary abnormalities.

There is a higher risk for people who have been sedentary and attempt to begin vigorous exercise quickly. A training program that builds up to vigorous exercise better allows the body to adapt.

Various exercises and sports are modifiable so that people with physical disabilities can participate. Some exercises may require additional equipment.

The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability hosts an exercise adaptation playlist. This includes options for all levels and abilities.

The CDC advise that everyone, including people with disabilities, engage in some vigorous physical activity. Some activity is better than no activity at all.

To qualify as vigorous physical activity, a person’s heart rate should be 77–93% of their maximum heart rate. To calculate this range, a person can subtract their age from 220 and multiply the resulting number by 0.77, then 0.93.


A person can jog or run outdoors or indoors on a treadmill or track. Proper shoes are essential to avoid injury, and working up to longer distances and faster running speeds is necessary.

Learn the benefits of running every day here.

Lap swimming

Swimming laps can quickly raise heart rate into maximum effort zones.

Like running, a person should begin with shorter sessions in the pool and work up to more time and distance. They can monitor heart rate with a waterproof heart-rate device or manually count the beats for 10 seconds then multiply by 6.

Swimming works the entire body without stressing the joints, unlike many other cardiovascular forms of exercise.

Hard, fast, or hill bike riding

Riding a bike for exercise requires setting the resistance on a road bike or a stationary bike to be sufficiently challenging to raise the heart rate.

Riding up hills or riding fast will also provide a cardiovascular workout.

For safety, people should always wear a helmet and use bike paths when they are available.

Jumping rope

Jumping rope is the kind of exercise a person can do nearly anywhere that has enough space for the rope to pass over their head. A jump rope is easy to pack in a bag and take during travels to get cardiovascular exercise while on the road.

This activity raises heart rate quickly and can be difficult to sustain when first beginning. People should start with a short time period and work up to longer sessions.

Circuit weight training

As people age, they lose muscle and bone, and weight training becomes more important to slow the process. Weight training does not sustain the heart rate as high as other cardio exercises, but a person can still increase heart rate in short bursts throughout their session.

To make weight training vigorous enough to raise heart rate, they should take only short breaks between sets to sustain the pace.

Fitness boxing

Fitness boxing is a high-energy workout that keeps the heart rate elevated and blood pumping.

Similar to an aerobics class, this type of workout incorporates the cardiovascular and flexibility benefits of boxing training but avoids the damage from taking punches.

Aerobic machines

Aerobic machines can challenge the body, whether they are an elliptical, stair-climber, treadmill, or stationary bike.

Since the user chooses what level to set the machine at, they control the workout intensity. Most machines also have heart-rate sensors allowing people to monitor their cardiovascular effort.

Warming up before exercise lets the body slowly increase heart rate and breathing and loosens up muscles.

This usually consists of some static and dynamic (moving) stretches. For weightlifting, it may include a few repetitions of exercises with lighter weights.

Learn dynamic stretches to warm up.

Cooling down after exercise can be either an active cooldown, such as light jogging or slow cycling, or a passive cooldown, such as foam rolling or stretching.

Some coaches and trainers believe that an active cooldown improves recovery and performance, but one 2018 literature review found otherwise.

Researchers from that study found an active cooldown had some benefits but generally did not prevent muscle soreness or improve muscle recovery. They concluded that the choice comes down to individual preference.

Learn about active recovery to cool down after a workout here.

Vigorous physical activity is part of overall wellness. It keeps the cardiovascular system healthy and promotes other health benefits.

The recommendation for adults is 75–150 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week. Activities such as running, lap swimming, basketball, jumping rope, and more all require vigorous physical exertion. Many exercises are modifiable for people with disabilities.

Exercise comes with some risks — the most common is musculoskeletal injury.