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There are a lot of ways to track your workouts. You can count your steps, your minutes of activity or even keep track of the miles you cover. But if you’re looking for a way to log your workouts without having to rely on your phone or an app, then a metabolic equivalent (MET) exercise chart can help.
A MET is defined as a measure of exercise intensity based on oxygen consumption. An activity that is 2 METs (like walking across the room) makes you work at twice your resting metabolic rate. In other words, you're burning nearly two times as many calories as you would just sitting quietly.
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health identifies and updates MET codes that have published evidence to support the values. It's used by researchers to compare how much energy you expend, not just when exercising but during daily activities, too. Obviously, the more METs you rack up, the better, and you’ll see they can add up quickly. The key takeaway is that all movement matters. That sentiment is backed by the updated list of physical activity guidelines.
Let’s take a look at a small portion of the MET exercise chart and how you can use it to keep track of your physical activity.
You can find the full MET exercise chart on the Adult Compendium of Physical Activities website. This is the 2011 compendium. It lists hundreds of activities and their METs per hour.
METs reflect the energy costs of physical activities. In other words, reference it to estimate the amount of energy you’re using. Remember it does not measure your precise energy expenditure during each activity, but it does give you a range. Your body weight and body mass will affect the actual numbers, but don’t discount your “met minutes” because remember, all movement matters.
Here is a slice of the MET exercise chart. On the left are daily activities and on the right is the number of METs you’re earning.
The current Public Health Guidelines for Physical Activity recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week. That translates to 500-1,000 MET-minutes per week, but you’ll likely need more than this if significant weight loss is your primary goal.
Moderate intensity will raise your metabolism four times your resting state (4 METs) which means you need a minimum of 10 METs per week to lower your risk of disease.
As you get older, your exercise capacity is very important. Studies show it is a powerful predictor of a longer life span in older adults. Researchers also say measuring oxygen uptake is a good way to tell how healthy your heart is.
This chart from Marie Murphy Health and Fitness breaks down MET targets for selected age groups.
Using the MET exercise chart is a great way to start monitoring how much physical activity you’re getting and a good place to start an exercise habit. Start with small bursts of movement throughout your day. Instead of sending an email to a co-worker, walk over and talk to them. Or skip the elevator for the stairs. You’ll find the more you do, the more you’ll want to do.
Staying physically active goes well beyond calories burned or how much you can bench press. If you’re sedentary and need help getting started, talk to your doctor. Or take a look at our guide: “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.” Inside you’ll find the newest research that explains why you don’t need to spend hours in a gym every day to stay healthy.