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 and rank physical activities by how much energy they use.
  • Select physical activities, based on the number of calories burned, to balance out calories from a food item.


  • "Balancing Clara's Calories" student activity sheet one for each student
  • Calculators - optional
  • 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 calories are a measurement of the potential energy contained in what we eat or drink. Calories fuel the body just like gasoline fuels a car. Three nutrients carbohydrate, protein and fat contain calories. When we eat or drink something that contains carbohydrate, protein or fat, the body breaks down the nutrients to release energy. 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 and to describe how each one makes them feel
    • Stretch high in the air and then touch their toes (if they can) 5 times.
    • Jog in place for one minute.
    • Lift a grocery bag or backpack filled with books as many times as possible.
    • Do 10 jumping jacks.
    • Stand on one foot for 30 seconds.
    • Walk quickly around the room.
    • Smile.
  2. Ask students what all of those challenges have in common. They are all different types of physical activity and they all use energy. Then challenge students to identify differences in the amount of energy the activities used. Which ones do they think used a lot of energy? Which used a medium (moderate) amount of energy? Which used the least amount of energy?
  3. Explain to students that everything we do, from sleeping to running, requires energy. Ask students where we get the energy we need to do these activities. (Foods and beverages). Share information from Instant Expert about calories and calorie burning.
  4. Ask students to name activities they have recently done that they think use lots of energy. 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. Ask students to think about whether each activity is Energy, More Energy or Most Energy. Have them write an H, an M or an L 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).


Doing Arts and Crafts (L)

Karate (H)

Shooting Baskets (M)

Playing the Piano (L)

Walking (M)

Playing Soccer (H)

  1. After reviewing answers, ask students to rank the activities from highest to lowest related to the specific number of calories a 65-lb. person would burn if doing the activity for 15 minutes. After all students have had a chance to guess, share answers

Highest to Lowest

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. After sharing answers, ask students how they can use this information as they are thinking about Energy Balance. Ask
    • Which activity category (High, Medium, or Low) would burn the most calories? High Energy/Vigorous
    • If you wanted to do a moderate activity but wanted to burn more calories, what could you do? Do it for a longer period of time
    • How could you give your body enough energy before doing a vigorous activity? Fuel up with food and beverages
    • If you knew you were going to go on vacation with your family or a birthday party where you were going to eat or drink more than usual, what could you do to balance it out? Do more physical activity to burn calories
  2. Distribute and review the "Balancing Clara's Calories" student activity sheet. In partners or small groups, have students select a snack for Clara and balance out the Energy In from her snack with the Energy Out from her physical activities. If students can't balance exactly, encourage them to balance within 5 calories.
  3. Have each pair or group share ideas for how they balanced out Clara's Calories! Is there more than one correct way to balance her calories? How can they relate this activity to their own lives?


  • One great way to be more physically active is to try new, fun activities when possible! Challenge students to learn more about a physical activity they have never tried by going to Have them research the necessary equipment and dress, the parts of the body the activity helps, and where they might do the activity. Finally have them write a letter to a friend or family member persuading them to give the activity a try!

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 e-mail or write 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).