The Compendium of Physical Activities: METs for All

The skeptical cardiologist recently stumbled across an extensive catalog which lists various activities that humans engage in along with an estimate of how much energy is consumed performing those activities.

The Compendium of Physical Activities collects information from multiple sources and lists the intensity of these various activities, ranging from playing the piano to driving a tractor to gardening along with a corresponding estimate of the metabolic equivalents (METs) expended.

One MET is defined as the energy cost of sitting quietly and is equivalent to a caloric consumption of 1 kcal/kg/hour. Thus, if you weigh 70 kg or 160 pounds you burn 70 calories per hour at rest. A MET also is defined as oxygen uptake in ml/kg/min with one MET equal to the oxygen cost of sitting quietly, equivalent to 3.5 ml O2/kg/min.

The MET concept represents a “simple, practical, and easily understood procedure for expressing the energy cost of physical activities as a multiple of the resting metabolic rate.”

Moderate-intensive activities are ones that cause you to consume at least three times but no more than six times as much energy per minute as you do at rest. Thus moderate intensity exercises or activities are those which require 3-6 METS like walking at 3-4 MPH.

Vigorous activities such as running at >6 MPH burn > 6 METS

Researchers have noted that “despite some limitations, the MET concept provides a convenient method to describe the functional capacity or exercise tolerance of an individual as determined from progressive exercise testing and to define a repertoire of physical activities in which a person may participate safely, without exceeding a prescribed intensity level.”

The latest updates to this compendium include the METs associated with Zumba, singing and running with a jogging stroller.

The faster you run, the more METS you achieve and the more kcal you burn per minute.

From the Compendium of Physical Activities you can also learn about MET levels with various sexual activities!

These MET levels apply to the average individual but don’t account for differences in body mass, adiposity, age, gender, or efficiency of movement. This means for any individual the estimate may be significantly different from the true energy cost of the physical activity.

The Compendium provides a nice example of how weight and gender influence some common activities

      The corrected MET values demonstrated in Table 1 offer insight into how an individual’s variation in age, height, and body mass may influence the intensity of physical activity. This is illustrated with seven activities using the standard and the corrected MET values for a middle-aged (35 yrs) normal weight male and female along with an older (55 yrs) overweight male and female. A summary value in MET-minutes (MET x minutes an activity is performed) is computed for each column using 30 minutes of participation per activity for comparison purposes.

The 55-year-old obese male consumes 2.5 METS more than his trim 35-year-old male counterpart while rope jumping but 1.1 METS less than an obese 55- year old woman.

This extensive compendium has served researchers seeking to semiquantitate physical activity for decades.

It’s also useful for physicians attempting to gauge whether patients are reaching the goal of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise (MVPA minutes) per week.

Metabolimaniacally Yours,



15 thoughts on “The Compendium of Physical Activities: METs for All”

  1. If you’re still interested, there’s one more FU question to the weight-gain question. After explaining why you can’t gain more weight than what you put in or on your body, ask “Now, how long after you finish a meal do you keep on gaining weight?” 🙂

  2. Clin psychologist – directed weight management program at Tripler AMC for many years, heavily involved in bariatric surgery, etc. Metabolism as a science concept seems to be treated psychologically like magic. Ask a potential patient, “What’s the most weight you can gain from any one meal?”, which of course has no numerical answer. Try to give your patients a hint – “How much do you think that bottle of water you’re holding weighs?”, (accurate or otherwise), “OK, now if you quickly drink that entire bottle and then we put you on the scale, how much weight would you gain?”, (usually consistent to last response), then again ask, “”What’s the most weight you can gain from any one meal?”, and see how many patients still fail to simply say, “The weight of the meal”. METS itself creates for some “fun” conversations – even if caloric expenditure estimates (like in calorie counter apps) were accurate, patients fail to realize that the number includes their “resting metabolic expenditure” and as is evident from your example, suggests that you have to work longer or harder for the same relative benefit for every pound lost. And the ultimate stumper: Highlight the performance of consistent physical activity every day while tracking caloric intake to achieve “negative energy balance” and lose little to no weight for months (or longer for some of my patients), then ask the patient “Why do you think you are not losing weight?”. It’s really interesting how many educated and intelligent people fail to express the simple answer, “Metabolism has slowed down”, as if he laws of physics stop at my office door. Explain the answer and then ask “How is it that the energy expenditure calculations don’t account for this”. By the way, what’s your answer doc? I assume if there is a missing variable for metabolism dynamism, it must reflect some inverse exponential function or such as I fail to understand how some of my anorexic patients have survived for so many years of negative balance.

    • Well, I can tell you why intelligent and educated folk…..educated in the field of weight management, that is….don’t get to caught up in the notion of “metabolism slows down” is that it doesn’t. Or, at least, not to the extent that overweight/overfat individuals believe. For sure, there’s such a thing as metabolic adaptation and it’s well recognised that with significant weight loss, there can be an accompanying reduction in BMR over and above what can be accounted for by the loss of metabolically active tissue. It amounts to about something like a 5-8% reduction so, in reality maybe a 100Cals or so. Real, but barely of clinical significance.

      Free living individuals are notoriously poor at assessing exactly how much they’re consuming and even worse at being able to assess energy expenditure so, although closely monitored and controlled study subjects always lose weight on an energy restricted diet. Just like thermodynamics suggests.


  3. Another excellent article by ACP. Be careful what u ask for. Heavy exercise OFTEN results in MANY major orthopedic surgeries. But then after the surgeries, u can generally get back to nearly what u were doing before. HRS, MD, FACC

    • In reality, injuries sustained from intelligently applied, appropriately dosed training practices are not at all common.

      It all depends on how you define heavy exercise, of course, but even former Sedentarians are pretty safe building up to a walking programme of far more than 30 minutes at 3-4 mph……even a few bursts at 5-6mph runs…..a day.


  4. Another timely post, Dr. P. This is the time of year when Sedentarians’ thoughts turn to exercise and calorie burning and a print out of the compendium has a place in every toolkit.

    One of the points that most folk who’re new to exercise don’t appreciate is that the terms “moderate” and “vigorous ” are not subjective in physiological terms and pertain to absolute efforts and not relative intensity. For a novice trainee…..or someone returning to exercise after a long layoff….who starts to exercise on a treadmill, say, there’s a good chance that a belt speed of 3-4 mph will feel distinctly high intensity even though objectively it counts as moderate exercise.

    I had the devil of a time in my pre-Emeritus days trying to explain that feeling wiped out at the end of a SPIN class wasn’t in and of itself an indication that they’d burned the magical 500 Cals they were hoping for (and their newly purchased …..and poorly understood….HRM was suggesting)

    You can see where the belief that exercise doesn’t help with weight loss comes from

    Thanks again!


    • Vivienne,
      Thanks so much!
      Excellent point and one that I’m slowly moving toward tackling. Rate perceived exertion (RPE) and the “ability to converse” test of exertion are subjective. The deconditioned individual may find it harder to breath walking at 3 mph and perceive quite vigorous exertion at what we have rated “moderate exertion” whereas the conditioned individual of similar age and weight only perceives that level of exertion and breathlessness when they are running at >6 MPH at >6 METs.

  5. The charts and tables and devices are very interesting –– for those who have the available time and funding.

    How do all these contrived activities compare to productive work?
    Cutting trees, bucking them, splitting and stacking for two cords of firewood annually. That has to burn a bunch.
    (Perhaps it’s too much to do every year, as per your previous blog updating AF?)
    How about the 3D extemporaneous jigsaw puzzle of building a fieldstone dry wall – handling each stone at least half a dozen times before finding its resting place?
    Or barn-raising, handling all those 4 inch by 6 inch beams that have been prepared to fit together with mortise-and-tenon joints?
    I can vouch for the fellow in your picture that scything tall grass is really strenuous!

    How does one calculate the risk/benefit of such activities?

      • under the activities related to work or occupation
        5.0 forestry, ax chopping, slow, 1.25 kg axe, 19 blows/min, moderate effort
        forestry, ax chopping, fast, 1.25 kg axe, 35 blows/min, vigorous effort
        forestry, moderate effort (e.g., sawing wood with power saw, weeding, hoeing)
        forestry, vigorous effort (e.g., barking, felling, or trimming trees, carrying or stacking logs, felling trees, planting seeds, sawing lumber by hand )

  6. Unless I am misreading this, the comment on Table 1 regarding Rope Jumping by a 55 overweight male using 1.5 METS less than a non-obese woman would not be correct. As I read the table he would still use 1.9 METS more than the trim woman, but 1.1 METS more than the obese older woman.

    • David,
      Thanks for the detailed reading and correction. It should be 2.5 more than the trim young man and 1.1 less than the obese woman of similar age
      55 obese man 15.4. 35 non obese man 12.9. obese 55 woman 16.5


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