Where on the Physical Activity Pyramid Do Sedentary Activities Belong?

Where on the Physical Activity Pyramid do Sedentary Activities Belong?

What is the Physical Activity Pyramid?

The Physical Activity Pyramid shows the different types of physical activity and the recommended amount of each activity using the F.I.T.T.E. principle. So where on the physical activity pyramid do sedentary activities belong?

Answer: Where on the Physical Activity Pyramid do Sedentary Activities Belong?

Sedentary activities belong on the very top (level 4) of the physical activity pyramid. We should reduce or limit the time we spend in these activities. When you reduce sedentary activity and choose to be more active, you can see many health benefits

What is the F.I.T.T.E Principle?

The F.I.T.T.E. Principle (Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type, Enjoy) is a method used to prescribe physical activity. It is an easy way keep things fun and interesting. When things change regularly, we are more engaged.

Frequency

Frequency means how often you are completing an activity. This can be the number of times per day or per week.

Intensity

Intensity is how hard you are working during an activity. This could be the pace you are walking or the amount of weight you are lifting.

Time

Time is how long you are taking to complete the activity. This could be measured in seconds, minutes, or the number of sets and reps.

Type

The type of physical activity you are completing falls within the categories of the physical activity pyramid:

  1. Every day – Level 1
  2. Aerobic or recreational – Level 2
  3. Leisure, strength, and flexibility – Level 3
  4. Sedentary time – Level 4

Enjoy

When you are choosing a physical activity, it is best if it is something you enjoy and makes you feel good. You are more likely to continue with activities you enjoy!

Level 1 – Everyday Activity

Level 1 Everyday Activity - Move as much as possible to reduce sedentary time
Level 1 – Everyday Activity

The base level of the Physical Activity Pyramid includes activities you can incorporate daily.

Everyday

The goal is to move as much as possible while reducing sedentary time.

  • Frequency – 5-7 days per week
  • Intensity – low to moderate
  • Time – move more often throughout the day

Ways to remain active throughout the day include:

  • Stand or take a short walk every 20 to 30 minutes of seated time
  • Walk to the store
  • Work in your garden
  • Park your car farther away from work or the store
  • Take extra steps in your day
  • Walk the dog
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Bike or walk to work or to the gym
  • Carry the groceries in a basket vs. using a cart

Be creative in finding ways to stay active.

Level 2 – Aerobic and Recreational Activity

Level 2 Aerobic and Recreational Activity
Level 2 Aerobic and Recreational Activity

The second level of the Physical Activity Pyramid includes Aerobic and Recreational Activities.

  • Frequency – 3-5 days per week
  • Intensity – moderate to vigorous
  • Time – 150-300 minutes per week

The table below shows the aerobic target heart rates for moderate to vigorous activities based on age (1). Moderate physical activity falls within the range of 50-70% of your max heart rate while vigorous activity falls within 70-85% of your max heart rate.

Aerobic Target Heart Rate Ranges Based On Age in Beats Per Minute (BPM)

Age (years)50% (BPM)70% (BPM)85% (BPM)Maximum
Heart
Rate (BPM)*
20100140170200
2598137166195
3095133162190
3593130157185
4090126153180
4588123149175
5085119145170
5583116140165
6080112136160
6578109132155
7075105128150
7573102123145
807098119140
856895115135
*Maximum heart rate = (220 – your age)

Aerobic Activity

Aerobic exercises are activities you can sustain for a longer period. These activities will make your heart beat a little faster. You may sweat, but you should not be “out of breath”.   

If your goal is to exercise at the moderate intensity level, you can use the Talk Test to be sure you are not pushing yourself too hard.  When you are in the moderate intensity exercise zone, you should be able to talk, but not sing during your activity (2).

Examples of aerobic activity include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Bicycling
  • Swimming
  • Jogging
  • Aerobics classes
  • Dancing.

Over time, you will find these activities become easier. You will be able to walk, bike, swim, jog, for longer periods of time with less effort. To continue to challenge yourself, consider changing the Frequency, Intensity, and Time of the activity. Don’t forget to Enjoy!

Recreational Activity

Recreational activities include activities you play as a team or with a partner. These types of activities vary in intensity. For example, if you are playing soccer, you may sprint for a short time, jog to get back to position, or walk to the sidelines. Because of the changing intensity, your heart rate will go up and down during recreational activities.

Examples of recreational activities include:

  • Soccer
  • Basketball
  • Tennis
  • Martial arts
  • Dancing
  • Hiking.

Level 3 – Leisure, Flexibility, and Strength Activity

Level 3 Leisure, Flexibility, and Strength Activity
Level 3 Leisure, Flexibility, and Strength Activity

Level 3 of the Physical Activity Pyramid includes leisure activities, flexibility training, and strength training.

Leisure Activity

Leisure activities will keep you moving, walking, or standing, but you may not experience an increase in heart rate to the moderate level.

  • Frequency – 2-3 days per week
  • Intensity – low to moderate
  • Time – varies

Examples of leisure activities include:

  • Golf
  • Recreational softball
  • Housework
  • Leisurely walking

Flexibility

Flexibility training can be included daily with your other regular physical activities.

  • Frequency – 3-7 days per week
  • Intensity – low – stretching
  • Time
    • Hold for 10-30 seconds – DO NOT Bounce
    • Repeat 3-5 times

Examples of flexibility training include:

  • Stretching
  • Yoga

Stretching and yoga help you keep your muscle range of motion, which can help reduce injury.

Stretching tips

  • Do a short warm-up before stretching or complete after your activity
  • Stretch in both directions
  • Avoid fast and jerking movements
  • Do not lock or hyper-extend your joints
  • Stretch until you feel a mild pull on the muscles
  • Breathe slowly in and out – DO NOT hold your breath
  • Remember to ALWAYS listen to your body! STOP if you feel pain!

Strength Training

Proper form is more important than the weight you are lifting. If you lift too heavy, you are more likely to injury yourself.

Strength training activities are encouraged at least 2-3 days per week. It is also recommended that you include 8-10 exercises that work all the major muscle groups of the body. Don’t skip leg day!

To begin, start with lower weights and higher reps (or repetitions). For each exercise, it is recommended to complete 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps.

  • Frequency – 2-3 days per week
  • Intensity – varies (muscle overload)
  • Time – 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps

What is a Rep?

One repetition of an exercise is a complete range of motion of that exercise. For example, if you are completing the flat bench chest press, one rep would be lowering the bar to your chest and pushing it back up to the starting position.

What is a Set?

One set includes 8-12 repetitions of that exercise.

How do you know if you are lifting the right amount of weight?

  • If you cannot lift 8 repetitions
    • The weight is TOO HEAVY – decrease weight
  • If you can easily lift 12 repetitions
    • The weight is TOO LIGHT – increase weight

Strength Training Safety Tips

  • Don’t hold your breath or strain.
    • Exhale upon exertion
    • Inhale when returning weights to the starting position
  • Avoid jerking or thrusting weights into position or “locking” the joints.
  • Muscle soreness lasting a few days with slight fatigue is normal after strength exercises
  • None of the exercises should cause pain.
  • The range you move your arms and legs should never hurt.

Level 4 – Sedentary Activity

Level 4 - Sedentary Activity - Limit Sedentary Time
Level 4 – Sedentary Activity

The goal is to cut down on activities in level 4.

Sedentary Time

Level 4 of the Physical Activity Pyramid is where sedentary activities belong. Sedentary activities include seated or stationary activities.

Examples of sedentary time include:

  • Watching TV or videos,
  • Sitting at the computer,
  • Sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time

To learn more about the benefits of physical activity, check out our blog post here.

Thanks for visiting!

Physical Activity Pyramid
Full Physical Activity Pyramid

References

Association, American Heart. Target Heart Rates Chart. American Heart Association CPR & First Aid Emergency Cardiovascular Care. [Online] May 12, 2022. https://cpr.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/target-heart-rates#:~:text=Volunteer%20Requirements%20%20%20%20Age%20%20,%20180%20bpm%20%206%20more%20rows%20.

2. Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and. Physical Activity. Measuring Physical Activity Intensity. [Online] April 27, 2022. [Cited: June 3, 2022.] https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/index.html#:~:text=The%20talk%20test%20is%20a,not%20sing%20during%20the%20activity.&text=In%20general%2C%20if%20you’re%20doing%20vigorous%2Dintensity%20activity,without%20pausing%20for%20a%20breath.

3. Human, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (2nd edition). Washington, DC: U.S. : Department of Health and Human Services, 2018.

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Rochelle Inwood MS, RDN, ACSM EP-C

Hello there! I’m Rochelle Inwood, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Exercise Physiologist (ACSM EP-C). With over 14 years of experience, I have sharpened my expertise through diverse roles, including weight management program co-coordinator, patient/employee gym supervisor, outpatient dietitian, program manager, dietetic internship preceptor, and more. I am passionate about learning, creating, teaching, and supporting personal growth and development.