Physical Activity and Energy

Students will learn how they use energy for all activities, including their basic body processes, and the amount of energy used by many of their daily activities.


Students will

  • Identify how different types of physical activities make them feel.
  • Categorize physical activities into high energy and low energy.
  • Create a high energy activity plan for the following day.


  • Grocery bags
  • Several heavy books
  • A stopwatch

Instant Expert

This lesson introduces students to the Energy Out in the Energy Balance equation. Energy Out includes the physical activity that we do every day. Regular physical activity is an important part of an active, healthy lifestyle. In fact, it is recommended that kids ages 6-17 get 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day. Physical activity means moving the body to use energy. Everything from brushing our teeth to running a marathon uses energy. The more vigorous the activity, the more energy is required. That energy comes from what we eat and what we drink.

Students learned in Lesson 2.1 that they get energy from foods and beverages. Food fuels the body just like gasoline fuels a car. That energy can then be used to do all the physical activities we want to do. Even when we're at rest, our body needs energy for all its "hidden" functions, such as breathing, circulating blood, and growing and repairing cells. Without energy, we could not survive. When we use the energy we get from calories, it's called "burning calories" during exercise. When we burn about the same number of calories that we consume over time, that's called Energy Balance!

Some physical activities require more energy than others. For example, running up stairs would use more energy than playing the piano. High energy activities that require lots of energy are called vigorous. Vigorous activity burns more than 7 calories per minute. Medium energy activities that require a moderate amount of energy are called moderate. Moderate activities burn between 3.5 and 7 calories per minute. Any activity that burns less than 3.5 calories per minute is low energy. We should do mostly moderate to vigorous physical activities each day.

High-Energy Activities (vigorous) include

  • Running/jogging
  • Bicycling (more than 10 miles per hour)
  • Jumping rope
  • Karate
  • Swimming laps
  • Aerobics
  • Walking fast up a hill
  • Wheeling a wheelchair
  • Most competitive sports (football, lacrosse, soccer, basketball, wheelchair basketball, field hockey, etc)

Medium Energy Activities (moderate) include:

  • Walking briskly (about 3-4.5 miles per hour on a level surface)
  • Hiking
  • Yoga
  • Gardening/yard work
  • Dancing
  • Golf
  • Bicycling (less than 10 miles per hour)
  • Weight training (general light workout)
  • Horseback riding
  • Kayaking

It is good to do a variety of different activities. Each type of activity uses different muscles. Some activities increase our heart rate. These are called aerobic activities. Muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities also can be aerobic, depending on whether they make our heart and lungs work harder than usual. For example, running is both an aerobic activity and a bone-strengthening activity. It is important that physical activity makes us work hard enough to increase our heart rate. Some good examples of aerobic activities include

  1. Brisk walking
  2. Jogging
  3. Swimming
  4. Riding a bike

Exercise builds muscle, some activities that strengthen our muscles also help keep our bones strong. These types of activities are called weightresistance or strength building exercises. Good examples of weight resistance activities include

  1. Lifting weights -
  2. Carrying heavy objects
  3. Swimming laps

Some activities stretch your muscles and help with balance. Some great examples of stretching and balance activities include

  1. Gentle stretching
  2. Yoga
  3. Martial arts
  4. Dancing


  1. Challenge students to do the following physical activities
    1. Walk quickly around the room.
    2. Smile.
    3. Do 10 jumping jacks.
    4. Stand on one foot for 10 seconds.
    5. Lift a book bag with books in it as many times as they can in 10 seconds.
  2. Tell students that all of the things they just did are types of physical activity and they all use energy, even the smile! Explain to students that everything we do, from sleeping to running, uses energy. We get that energy from foods we eat and beverages we drink.
  3. Then ask student volunteers to share what body parts they used for the activities at the beginning of the lesson and how each one made them feel. Which ones made them out of breath? Which ones made their heart beat faster? Tell student that activities that use lots of energy usually make them out of breath and make their heart beat faster. Which activities do they think used a lot of energy? (Jumping jacks, lifting books, walking quickly) Which used a little energy (standing on one foot, smiling)?
  4. Ask students if they can name an activity they have recently done that they think uses lots of energy. How do they know? Explain that activities that use lots of energy are called "vigorous." Then ask them to name activities they have done that they think require a medium amount of energy. These are called "moderate." Finally, ask them to name activities they did that require a low amount of energy. You can tell them that doing homework would be an example of a low energy activity!
  5. Hand out the six Post-It notes to students. Then write the names of the activities listed below horizontally on the board (or put the names on signs in different parts of the room). Read the names of each activity to students, making sure that they understand what each activity is. You can even have student volunteers act out each activity! Ask students to think about whether each activity is low energy, medium energy or high energy. Have them write an L (low), M (medium) or H (high) on each Post-It note to correspond with how much energy they think each activity would require. (Hint: 2 are high energy, 2 are medium energy and 2 are low energy). Have them place their Post-Its on the board. Then share answers (listed below).


Doing Arts and Crafts (L)

Karate (H)

Shooting Baskets (M)

Playing the Piano (L)

Walking (M)

Playing Soccer (H)

Karate (89 calories)

Playing Soccer (60 calories)

Shooting Baskets (35 calories)

Walking (25 calories)

Playing Piano (15 calories)

Doing Arts and Crafts (10 calories)

  1. You may even want to share with students how many calories someone their age would burn by doing each activity for 30 minutes!
  2. Tell students that it's great to have a balance of different types of activities every day but most of their activities should be high energy. Go around the room and ask each student, one by one, to raise his or her hands high in the air and say one high energy activity they like to do. If other students also like that activity, they should raise their hands high in the air.
  3. Finally, ask students to create a high energy activity plan for the next day. Their plan should include at least one high energy activity they plan to do. Have them draw a picture of themselves doing each activity within the plan. Have students share their plans with the class.


Family Connection

One great strategy is to make physical activity a family affair! Challenge students to work with family members to identify one activity they could do as a family. This could be a family walk or bike ride, or taking an exercise class together!

Community Connection

Community centers and youth centers often host physical activity classes designed specifically for kids. Encourage students to write a class letter to their local community center to learn what activities might be appropriate and fun for them.

Standards Connections

National Standards for Physical Education

  • Standard 3: Participates regularly in physical activity.
  • Standard 4: Achieves and maintains a health-enhancing level of physical fitness.
  • Standard 6: Values physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression, and/or social interaction.

National Health Education Standards

  • Standard 2: Students will analyze the influence of family, peers, culture, media, technology, and other factors on health behaviors.
  • Standard 4: Students will demonstrate the ability to use interpersonal communication skills to enhance health and avoid or reduce health risks.
  • Standard 5: Students will demonstrate the ability to use decision-making skills to enhance health.
  • Standard 6: Students will demonstrate the ability to use goal-setting skills to enhance health.

National Reading/Language Arts Standards

  • Standard 5: Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • Standard 12: Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).