Do METs matter?

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

July 2012

If you're thinking Major League Baseball, Phillies probably matter more than Mets but if you're into reading health magazines you have probably come across the MET. A MET is a not-quite-precise term that indicates the relative intensity of physical activity. Researchers use it to study a general population and it's a rough but handy guide for specific individuals.

MET refers to Metabolic Equivalent of Task and denotes the relative energy cost of physical activities. Such activity can also be expressed in terms of oxygen consumption or calories expended but MET is more practical for the non-scientist. METs not only vary by activity but also by the weight and metabolic rate of the individual, giving it a layer of complexity that doesn't mean much to the average gym-goer. You are probably reading this while sitting and therefore expending one MET per hour. If you doze off by the time you get to the end of this column you will expend only 0.9 METs. On the other hand, if this piece motivates you to run at a vigorous pace (and you are in excellent shape) your METs might increase to about 15. A stroll around the neighborhood at about 2 miles per hour provides 2 METs. Increasing your pace to a pretty brisk jog will get you to about 7 METs.

The Centers for Disease Control provides an extensive list of activities and their approximate MET values that you can Google at metabolic equivalent CDC chart. It includes a couple of hundred activities from ballet to pushing a disabled car. Just about every sport, household activity and just plain horsing around are included. It even includes walking using crutches. Keep in mind that all of these activities count as exercise. Back in the Stone Age our ancestors did many of them and our grandparents could probably do all of them.

How many METs on a weekly basis does it take to stay in shape? Multiply the MET of your chosen activity by the number of hours in which you are engaged in that activity. Variety is not only alright, it's much to be encouraged. Aim for 15 to 20 METs a week. One hour each of baton-twirling, line dancing, jumping on a trampoline and milking cows will get you there. More realistically, a brisk one-hour walk 3 days per week and two hours in the gym are ideal.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.