What is Metabolic Equivalent for Task (MET)?

What All Gym Goers Should Know About MET

A couple on a run together.
A couple on a run together.. Johner Images/Getty Images

MET, or the standard metabolic equivalent, is a unit used to estimate the amount of oxygen used by the body during physical activity. MET stands for "Metabolic Equivalent for Task." It is, in short, a way to compare the amount of exertion required for different activities between people of varying weights.

It is recommended that every individual gets some sort of physical activity several times a week, as such activity has a variety of health benefits.

METs in Relation to Activity

One MET is the base unit of METs in relation to activity. A single MET is equivalent to the energy, or oxygen, utilized by the body while at rest, or while participating in other idle activities, such as sitting quietly or reading a book, for example.

The harder your body works during any given activity, the more oxygen is consumed and the higher the MET level. Activity that burns three to six METs is considered moderate-intensity physical activity. Activity that burns more than six METs is considered vigorous-intensity physical activity.

Moderate Intensity Physical Activity

Moderate-intensity physical activity refers to a level of body effort that is active but not strenuous.

Characteristics of moderate-intensity physical activity include:

  • Causes an increase in breathing and/or heart rate
  • Results in three to six metabolic equivalents (METs) of effort
  • Burns 3.5 to 7 Calories per minute (kcal/min)

    Examples of moderate physical activity include things like walking outside or on a treadmill at a speed of about three miles per hour, shooting a basketball, biking at a speed of about 10 mph or slower, doing water aerobics, ballroom dancing, or playing doubles tennis.

    Basically, if you are actively moving, potentially lightly sweating, and breathing harder than usual, but can still carry on a normal conversation, your activity level is probably considered moderate.

    However, if it is hard to speak, and you are consistently sweating heavily, you’ve probably moved from a moderate level to a vigorous level of activity.

    Vigorous Intensity Physical Activity

    Vigorous intensity physical activity is an enhancement of moderate intensity physical activity. You will sweat more, breath harder, and use more oxygen during vigorous intensity physical activity.

    Examples of vigorous physical activity include jogging and running, either outdoors or on a treadmill, playing tennis, swimming laps, playing basketball or soccer, or doing calisthenics, like push-ups and jumping jack. Any of these activities can be done with varying levels of effort. The key for vigorous intensity physical activity is that the activity must be performed with intense effort. If you are breathing hard and sweating, you are probably in the intense/vigorous zone.

    Vigorous intensity physical activity needs to be performed less frequently than moderate intensity physical activity, as it is more demanding on the body.

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