Physical Activity Level (PAL)

Physical Activity Level (PAL) is a number that represents how active you are in a day. PAL is a way to express an individual’s daily physical activity as a multiple of their Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). PAL includes all activities, from movement and exercise to resting and sleeping.

PAL values were originally coefficients used in dietary studies to estimate an individual’s total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) based on the individual’s level of physical activity.

BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) represents the calories our bodies burn while at complete rest to maintain vital bodily functions such as heartbeat, breathing, and brain activity.

The PAL value is used to multiply the BMR to estimate TDEE (Total Daily Calorie Expenditure). However it does not include the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF), which is the energy used for digestion, absorption, metabolism and the storage of excess nutrients. TEF must be added separately to calculate the overall daily calorie expenditure.

The PAL values were developed by a joint FAO/WHO/UNU consultation.

Pal Values:

Sedentarylittle to no exercisePAL 1.2
Lightly activelight exercise/sports 1-3 days/weekPAL 1.375
Moderately activemoderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/weekPAL 1.55
Very activehard exercise/sports 6-7 days a weekPAL 1.725
Super activevery hard exercise & physical job or 2x trainingPAL 1.9

Below are the PAL definitions adapted from the joint FAO/WHO/UNU consultation.

What is Sedentary (PAL 1.2)? Sedentary individuals have a lifestyle characterized by little to no exercise. Their occupations do not demand much physical effort, and they are not required to walk long distances. Typically they use motor vehicles for transportation, do not regularly exercise or participate in sports, and spend most of their leisure time engaged in sedentary activities such as talking, reading, watching television, listening to the radio, or using computers. An example includes office workers in urban areas who only occasionally engage in physically demanding activities.

What is Lightly Active (PAL 1.375)? A lightly active person may have an occupation that isn’t strenuous in terms of energy demands but uses more energy than a sedentary occupation. Alternatively, lightly active individuals could have sedentary occupations but regularly engage in light physical activities or perform exercise 1-3 days per week. Rural people who have amenities like electricity and piped water but spend time farming or doing light household chores also fall into this category.

What is Moderately Active (PAL 1.55)? Moderately active individuals are individuals with lifestyles requiring more energy expenditure than sedentary or lightly active lifestyles. They could be individuals with sedentary occupations who spend a significant amount of time in moderate to vigorous physical activities during their daily routine or who exercise or engage in sports activities 3-5 days per week. Examples include masons, construction workers, or rural people who participate in agricultural chores or walk long distances for water and fuelwood.

What is Very Active (PAL 1.725)? Very active individuals are people with very active lifestyles, who engage in hard physical work, exercise or sports 6-7 days a week for a significant length of time. They may have occupations that involve strenuous work or may participate in strenuous leisure activities for several hours at a time. Examples include people with non-sedentary occupations who swim or dance an average of two hours each day.

What is Super Active (PAL 1.9)? Vigorously active individuals are those who regularly engage in very hard exercise, have physically demanding jobs, or engage in twice-daily training. They could be non-mechanized agricultural laborers who work with tools like machetes, hoes, or axes for several hours daily, or walk long distances over rugged terrains, often carrying heavy loads. Also included in this category are professional sports people and athletes, mountaineers and others who train vigorously for significant periods of time on most days.

FAO/WHO/UNU (2001)1 PAL Values

Important: The FAO/WHO/UNU (2001) PAL values are used almost exclusively with the Schofield equation.

The FAO/WHO/UNU (2001) report is frequently cited as a foundational source for energy expenditure.

Below are the original PAL multipliers:

  • Sedentary or light activity lifestyles:
    • Sedentary occupation, little or no physical activity: 1.40 – 1.69 for men and 1.40 – 1.60 for women.
  • Active or moderately active lifestyles:
    • Occupations that involve standing or walking, but not strenuous physical activity: 1.70 – 1.99 for men and 1.61 – 1.85 for women.
  • Vigorous or vigorously active lifestyles:
    • Occupations that involve intense physical activity and heavy manual labor: 2.00 – 2.40 for men and 1.86 – 2.10 for women.


Katch and McArdle did not invent the concept of PAL (Physical Activity Level). PAL is a separate multiplier used to adjust BMR values based on a person’s level of physical activity.

The PAL multipliers1 first appeared in the 1981 FAO/WHO/UNU report by expert consultation.

  1. Human energy requirements: report of a joint FAO/ WHO/UNU Expert Consultation. Food Nutr Bull. 2005 Mar;26(1):166. PMID: 15810802. ↩︎

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