The Talk Test: How Intense is Your Workout?

Registered Dietitian Melanie Douglass explains what “The Talk Test” is.


If you’re a typical American, taking 30 – 60 minutes out of your already jam-packed day to do something for your own health and wellness is nearly impossible.

Many of us tend to be starved for time, yet starved for physical activity and healthful foods at the same time. However, in order to revive our health, regain our energy, and look and feel our best, we need physical activity. There’s no debate and no way around it—exercise is powerful medicine and we all need a daily dose. It fights disease, burns calories, revs our metabolism, and improves the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to every living cell in our body—making us strong, healthy, and vibrant.

Test yourself. Workout at your “normal” intensity level for at least 30 minutes today. At 15-minutes—the peak of your workout session—I want you to try the “talk test”. See how much you can talk.

Are you working and breathing so hard that you can only say a few words at a time? If so, your likely working at a “vigorous” intensity. It’s fine to work in this zone—in fact, you’ll receive greater health benefits for working harder—but make sure you don’t feel light-headed or faint. You should still feel in control of your breathing.

If you can’t talk at all, you are definitely working too hard and should take drop your intensity down to a level in which you can speak and control your breathing.

If you can carry on full conversations with no trouble at all or tell long elaborate stories, you are not working hard enough! So step it up! (Or plan to stay at that intensity level for at least one hour.) If you are going to take the time to exercise, make sure you work at a level that is going to make a difference in your health.

Intensity sets the tone for “how long” you need to workout. The CDC recommends that:

* Adults should engage in moderate-intensity physical activities for at least 30 minutes on 5 or more days of the week.


* Adults should engage in vigorous-intensity physical activity 3 or more days per week for 20 or more minutes per occasion.

Examples of “moderate” exercise:

• Hiking

• Gardening

• Dance

• Golf

• Leisure cycling

• Walking ~ 3.5 mph

• Any exercise where you can talk, but not effortlessly carry on elaborate conversations.

Examples of “vigorous” exercise:

• Running >5 mph

• Bicycling >10 mph

• Swimming

• Walking ~ 4.5 mph

• Weight Training (vigorous)

• Basketball

• Any exercise where you can only say a few words at a time

*the intensity of any of the above exercise can be adjusted to be light, moderate or vigorous; these are the “average” intensities at which these activities are commonly performed.


By Melanie Douglass, R.D., NASM

Author: Tip-a-Day Guide to Healthy Living

(Deseret Book, 2007)

Have a health question for Melanie? Click here to submit your question and Melanie will answer your question on an upcoming Studio 5 segment!

© 2007 Melanie Douglass, Deseret Book

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