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Activity Level and Logging Exercise

There are frequent posts asking what should be logged as “exercise”… And occasional posts condemning those who, some believe, log frivolous activities. I’d like to give a simple overview of activity level settings and how to determine what to log.

What you log as exercise is very dependent on your Activity Level setting. Activity Level is intended to include your normal routine at home (cooking dinner, doing laundry, brushing your teeth, watching TV, etc), and what you do for work. It does not include purposeful exercise, or any significant activity outside norm.

The Activity Level factors MFP uses are based on statistics for average people, not athletes or someone bedridden. The higher your BMR, the more cals Activity Level adds. Also, the higher your LBM (lean body mass – how much muscle you have), the higher Activity Level factor you need, to account for more calories burned even when at rest. This is where many lean, reasonably muscular people err, as they don’t compensate for higher muscle mass. If you choose the wrong Activity Level setting, you may be eating too much or too little.

Sedentary: Adds about 250-500 cals/day for most people. Appropriate for: Those who work at a desk job AND are sedentary at home, with light or no exercise and low LBM; Usually NOT appropriate for stay-at-home moms/dads with young children.

Lightly Active: Adds 450-700. Appropriate for: Most people with young children, who are otherwise sedentary; Many who have a desk job but exercise moderately and have a moderate LBM%; Those who stand a lot at work, but don’t really walk around a lot or lift heavy items, etc.

Active: Adds 700-1000. Appropriate for those who have an active job (some nurses, waitresses, laborers, etc) and exercise moderately-frequently, and especially those who have a high LBM%.

Very Active: Adds 950-1400. Appropriate for those who have a very active job (trainers, some laborers, some athletes, some warehouse workers), and exercise frequently and have a high or very high LBM%.

So, now that you’ve chosen your appropriate Activity Level setting… What should you log as “exercise”?

What you log should be ANYthing that burns significantly (100-200+) more calories than are accounted for in your Activity Level setting. This means logging a 10 minute walk, light cleaning for 30 minutes, cooking for 45 minutes, etc., IS appropriate for a Sedentary Activity Level. Someone set at Active or Very Active, and some Lightly Active, generally shouldn't log them, because those “little” things are already accounted for and a fit person burns far less calories for the same activity. For someone who is very sedentary (often those who are obese or morbidly obese but not always), just walking to the mailbox, doing dishes or laundry, or a trip to the grocery store IS a strenuous activity that burns significant calories – and those calories aren't accounted for at a Sedentary Activity Level.

Which brings us to why this is important. You’ve chosen to use a daily intake/expenditure log as a tool to get healthy or maintain health. This means accurately accounting for ALL of your intake and ALL of your expenditures. MFP does most of this math for you. But you have to determine what to log.

Using a calorie counter successfully means accuracy and accountability. You don’t ignore that handful of Skittles you ate this afternoon. And you don’t ignore an expenditure if it hasn’t been accounted for. You log everything as accurately as possible, because if you don’t, you’ll be in trouble sooner or later. Just because it’s something you’ve always done, but you still “got fat doing it”, doesn’t mean you don’t need to log it now. You didn’t log your intake before either. This is all about accountability, for intake AND expenditure.

Finally, I’ll point out that for a lot of people who have had very little activity for a long time, the motivation to take just a 10 minute walk can be pretty hard to come by. So if they can log that 10 minutes and someone tells them “Good job!”, that can be a pretty good sense of accomplishment and make it happen again tomorrow, and maybe the next day is even longer. So maybe their activities aren’t as intense as yours…yet. But they’re working on it, so don’t belittle their efforts.

Choose the right settings, log accurately and you’ll be successful! Best wishes!

79 votes + -


ShellyMacchi wrote 81 months ago:
adding this to my list of links to pass on to others *S*
takethepieces wrote 81 months ago:
Well said. Thank you!
kimi131 wrote 81 months ago:
I keep mine easy. I am a teacher at home for summer, so currently my life has been sedentary. I may change it to lightly active once school starts back. Anyway, with sedentary, I do add some smaller forms of exercise. If I clean for an hour, for example, that's out of my normal routine, so I log it. I don't know, maybe I'm not doing it right, but it's worked for me so far.
Elleinnz wrote 81 months ago:
Excellent explanation - a must read!
sarah_ep wrote 81 months ago:
I really love this post as I have struggled with what activity would be appropriate for me. I have decided to change mine to lightly active. I do believe you explained this a tad better than the site.
pamela1129 wrote 81 months ago:
Bravo!! I like this blog post---it's very helpful and true. For me, doing a bit of housecleaning and painting a room is a big thing so I log it. I didn't before. It counts. Thanks for posting this!
unhinge wrote 81 months ago:
Excellent post and well stated. Thank you :)
missolesky wrote 81 months ago:
excellent, thank you!
derynb wrote 81 months ago:
Does anyone know how to change my activity level??
Robin1117 wrote 81 months ago:
I like it...great post! thanks for offering clarity!
ladyhawk00 wrote 81 months ago:
Derynb, go to Settings, Update Diet/Fitness Profile and you can change it there. ;)
cmriverside wrote 81 months ago:
This should be a topic, too. Nice job, lh00.
ladyhawk00 wrote 81 months ago:
Haha cm, beat you to it. I almost always post them on the board and blog, because some people don't read blogs, and some people don't frequent the boards. So I try to cover all the bases. LOL
Collinsky wrote 81 months ago:
Fabulous!! I've honestly felt confused about what activity level I should be set at... I'm going to make sure I'm at the right one. Thanks for this post!
av8rblond wrote 81 months ago:
Excellent post! It explains the whole idea in simple terms so it is easy to make the right choices. Thank you!
WPGJudi wrote 73 months ago:
Thank you. This article really helped!!
alburch03 wrote 62 months ago:
Thank You, this was very helpful. I was worried choosing lightly active would overestimate my daily calorie goal. I'm a SAHM & am lightly active most days, but there are some slow days too. I'm never doing exactly the same thing everyday, so I know calories burn from "normal activity" fluctuates. However, we should pick what we feel is the appropriate activity level for the majority of our days. Thanks again!
Anonymous wrote 50 months ago:
How do you change activity level, now that I realize how sedentary I am
ZakFritz12 wrote 45 months ago:
I am a painter Monday through Friday for 8 hour a day. I put very active, do you think this is a good idea?
Anonymous wrote 37 months ago:
Well done. Thank you.
robnsherie wrote 35 months ago:
Hi there. I am a cleaner some of the week and work in the office the rest. What would u recommend I set my activity level to? Many thanks x
nicolepenney2015 wrote 33 months ago:
This is one of the most helpful explanations I have read and it's really helped me. It would be interesting to know how much of our calories burned you would personally think we should eat back x
cedwifey wrote 33 months ago:
I work as a CNA and i do alot of walking lifting and turning. I also exercise so should mines be very active
ldsdave wrote 27 months ago:
This explains why I haven't been losing as much weight as I thought I should be. I cycle about 10 hours a week, burning around 6-10,000 calories, but had been losing only a pound when my setting was for 2 pounds.

I work at a desk all day, and don't do much outside my cycling exercise. With these changes to maintain the same calorie input I had to decrease my goal down to half a pound a week.

Going forward I think I'll be able to more accurately shape my training and diet to meet my goals, and more realistically set my goals.

Thanks so much for this article.
Anonymous wrote 26 months ago:
I log about 10,000 - 12,000 steps in a typical day seven days a week with my pedometer and it says highly active. Which category would I choose in Myfitnesspal? Also I do have a desk job but up and down a lot during the week.
calleefrances wrote 20 months ago:
thank you very much, I automatically assumed that just because I have a desk job I lead a sedatary lifestyle, which is not the case. I was following my calorie budget and I was starving, I was lightheaded, getting headaches and could not shake off the feeling of hunger which is not good. I updated my status to moderately active, because though I have a desk job, I am up on my feet and moving around most days, I walk my dog for 45-hour daily, I walk to the store for groceries, I don't come home and sit on the couch, 8 days out of 10 I am doing laundry or cleaning, and I exercise a minimum of 4 times a week. I feel so much better jumping from 1,279 to 1,400. 40% protein, 35%carb, 25% fat
Anonymous wrote 20 months ago:
Thanks for a clear and concise explanation! Will help anyone user MFP more accurately.
Anonymous wrote 14 months ago:
Thanks a lot for the article. It's taught me a lot of things I didn't know about My Fitness Pal.
Anonymous wrote 11 months ago:
Still not clear. If I list myself as active (I do significantly strenuous resistance training for an hour 5-7 days a week, but otherwise sit at a desk) are my workout burns already factored in so I should not record my workouts, or are the additional baseline calories strictly to support my increased BMR and a presumably higher than average LBM%? -- Thanks
Anonymous wrote 11 months ago:
PS, I looked at two different threads on the community boards with two different interpretations, and the article on this page is ambiguous.

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