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.