MVPA vs. LPA and how it can improve your heart health
Young man and young woman checking their heart rates

This article is part of a series in collaboration with ParticipACTION. Discover how "Everything gets better when you get active!"


The more you move your body every day, the higher the chance that you will improve your sleep, boost your mood and be more focused throughout the day. To maintain a healthy lifestyle, adults should aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) a week (that’s about 20 minutes a day of sweat-prompting, heart rate-boosting movement). 

What is MVPA?

MVPA refers to any physical activity that raises your heart rate and makes you breathe a bit harder. It can include anything from a brisk walk, to a jog, to climbing stairs or swimming laps. The benefits of regular MVPA are significant – when done as part of an active lifestyle, this form of physical activity is linked to greater heart health, stronger bones, and a lowered risk of obesity, heart disease, some cancers, and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Examples of moderate physical activity include:

·       Brisk walking

·       Biking

·       Dancing

·       Shoveling snow

·       Raking leaves

Examples of vigorous physical activity include:

·       Running

·       Jumping rope

·       Playing a sport like soccer or basketball

How do you measure MVPA?

There are physical signs that tell you when you’ve reached the MVPA zone. Signs that you’re in the moderate zone include rapid or laboured breathing, increased heart rate, sweating, or increased body temperature. If you’re also having trouble carrying on a conversation, then you’re probably in the vigorous zone. 

Heart rate

One way to measure the intensity of your physical activity is by gauging your heart rate during the activity. You can do this manually by gently placing your index finger on your wrist or at the base of your neck to find your pulse, counting your heartbeat for 10 seconds and then multiplying that number by six. You can also do this using a heart rate monitor or smart watch equipped with one.

Heart rate is measured in beats per minute and varies according to an individual’s age and fitness level. But the general formula for determining your target heart rate is to subtract your age from 220, and then work between 50 to 85 per cent of that number. For example, a moderate-to-vigorous heart rate training zone of someone who is 45 years old would be between 88 and 149 beats per minute.

Ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) scale

Assessing your heart rate, especially while exercising, can be challenging. It’s also not suitable for those on certain medications or with medical conditions that affect heart rate, which is why it’s always important to discuss with your health-care provider any planned changes in your physical activity behaviours.

A simple way to gauge exercise intensity is to use a perceived exertion scale, also known as RPE. It offers a double-check on heart rate and can be done without stopping to check it. RPE can be used on its own or combined with heart rate when monitoring exercise intensity.

You can assess RPE using a 0-to-10 chart to rate the feelings your exertion causes. For instance, being still would have a rating of 0, while gently waving your arms might raise the effort rating to 0.5. Moving at a pace that feels moderate would get a rating of 3. Read more about RPE

Don’t forget the importance of low-intensity physical activity each day

MVPA isn’t the only physical activity recommended as part of an overall active lifestyle. According to the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines, Canadians should also aim to break up periods of sedentary behaviour each day with several hours of light, low-intensity physical activity.

What is low-intensity physical activity? 

Low-intensity physical activity is another important form of physical activity that, when done regularly, also comes with significant health benefits.

Examples of low-intensity physical activity include:

·       Stretching

·       Standing

·       Playing an instrument

·       Painting

Low-intensity physical activity also stimulates your heart rate but keeps it in the low-to-moderate effort zone. As a result, it doesn’t put as much stress on your heart, lungs or joints, and you can perform it for longer without getting tired. Low-intensity physical effort can also improve blood pressure, aerobic capacity and energy levels, and can help reduce stress. 

Don’t underestimate the value of performing low-intensity physical activity each day. Like MVPA, it’s associated with helping maintain good heart health, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and improved mood.


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