Exercise intensity is a measure of how hard you're exercising. Here's why it matters and how to measure it.

You may have heard people talk about exercise intensity. But what does it mean? And more importantly, how do you measure it? Consider these simple strategies for monitoring how hard you're exercising.
Exercise intensity defined

The intensity at which you exercise reflects the amount of oxygen your body uses to do an exercise and the number of calories you burn while doing it. In aerobic exercise such as walking, swimming or cycling intensity translates into how hard the exercise feels to you.

As a general rule, moderate-intensity exercise is best. If you exercise too lightly, you may not meet your fitness or weight-loss goals. If you push yourself too hard, you may increase your risk of soreness, injury and burnout. Moderate-intensity activity decreases these risks and may even increase your odds of continuing your exercise program in the long run.
Measure your exercise intensity

Moderate-intensity exercise should feel somewhat hard for you. Watch for these telltale signs:

* You're breathing faster.
* You're developing a light sweat.
* You're feeling some strain in your muscles.

You can also use the talk test. If you can carry on a conversation of brief sentences but you can't sing a song, you're probably exercising in the recommended moderate-intensity range.
Do the math

If you'd rather get more specific, use your heart rate to measure your exercise intensity.


When you exercise as hard as you can, your heart beats at its maximum rate. If you're a healthy adult, strive to exercise at your target heart rate between 60 percent and 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. If you have an irregular heart rhythm or you're taking medication that affects your heart rate, ask your doctor about the best way to measure your exercise intensity.

Here's how to calculate your target heart rate:


* Subtract your age from 220. This is your maximum heart rate.
* Determine the low end of your target heart rate by multiplying your maximum heart rate by 0.6.
* Determine the upper end of your target heart rate by multiplying your maximum heart rate by 0.85.

So how do you use this information? While exercising, check your pulse.

To check your pulse over your carotid artery, place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. When you feel your pulse, look at your watch and count the number of beats in 15 seconds. Multiply this number by 4 to get your heart rate per minute.

To check your pulse at your wrist, place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery, which is located on the thumb side of your wrist. When you feel your pulse, look at your watch and count the number of beats in 15 seconds. Multiply this number by 4 to get your heart rate per minute.

If your heart rate is within the range you calculated above, you're exercising at about the right level. If your heart rate is too low, pick up the pace. If your heart rate is too high, back off a bit.
Reap the rewards

You'll get the most from your workouts if you're exercising at the proper intensity. Whether you gauge your intensity by how you're feeling or how hard your heart is beating, know that you're doing what it takes to maximize your workout.