Physical Activity: Absolute Intensity versus Relative-to-Fitness-Level Volumes

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This study aimed to investigate in a real-life setting how moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity (PA) volumes differ according to absolute intensity recommendation and relative to individual fitness level by sex, age, and body mass index.


A total of 23,224 Finnish employees (10,201 men and 13,023 women; ages 18–65 yr; body mass index = 18.5–40.0 kg·m−2) participated in heart rate recording for 2+ d. We used heart rate and its variability, respiration rate, and on/off response information from R-R interval data calibrated by participant characteristics to objectively determine daily PA volume, as follows: daily minutes of absolute moderate (3–<6 METs) and vigorous (≥6 METs) PA and minutes relative to individual aerobic fitness for moderate (40%–<60% of oxygen uptake reserve) and vigorous (≥60%) PA.


According to absolute intensity categorization, the volume of both moderate- and vigorous-intensity PA was higher in men compared with women (P < 0.001), in younger compared with older participants (P < 0.001), and in normal weight compared with overweight or obese participants (P < 0.001). When the volume of PA intensity was estimated relative to individual fitness level, the differences were much smaller. Mean daily minutes of absolute vigorous-intensity PA were higher than those of relative intensity minutes in normal weight men ages 18–40 yr (17.7, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 16.9–18.6, vs 8.6, 95% CI = 8.0–9.1; P < 0.001), but the reverse was the case for obese women ages 41–65 yr (0.3, 95% CI = 0.2–0.4, vs 7.8, 95% CI = 7.2–8.4; P < 0.001).


Compared with low-fit persons, high-fit persons more frequently reach an absolute target PA intensity, but reaching the target is more similar for relative intensity.

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