The exercise ratings system described here is one that fairly and reasonably assesses the overall value of different forms of exercise. I call it the Kutscher Exercise Ratings System (KERS). The factors used for the ratings cover all aspects of exercise that can be rated, not just those such as aerobic value or strength conditioning. Some of the factors for the ratings are subjective since the factor is not typically quantifiable. So differences in opinion between my ratings and those of others may occur.

The scores are based on my personal exercise experience of over four decades, i.e. from 1968 on. I participated at one time or another in all of the nine rated forms of exercise that are included and have had exercise programs based on five of the nine (not at the same time and during different years).

Enjoyment factors are very important. If an exercise is not enjoyable, a person will resist doing it even if it has potentially high value in maintaining health. If an exercise is very good for fitness but also is fun, relieves stress, and is one that you truly look forward to doing, you will probably do it much more than a demanding exercise that you need to force yourself to do. You will be much less likely to quit after a few weeks or months.

A highly stressful exercise may be superb over the short run, but what good is it if you quit after a few months? It is essential to find an exercise that you enjoy and you will stick with. That is my recommendation and exercise philosophy; find at least one exercise that you will find to be too fun to quit, and gradually add to it as you get more capable of doing more.

The list is for those who wish to select one primary form of exercise. Of course having two or more exercises is a better way to maximize total fitness. But if you are only going to do one regular exercise, KERS should be able to help in making the selection.

The rating factors are given equal weight with exception of the first one (overall fitness impact) which is given twice the points of the others. The factors are:

The maximum possible total for these 13 factors is 70 points. Any exercise with a score of 35 or higher is fairly good, 40 is good, and 44 is very good. Any exercise with a score of 49 points (70 %), is excellent. A score of 56 (80 %) or higher is outstanding.

Any exercise that scores at least 30 is acceptable, in my opinion, but for an exercise to be your primary method of fitness, it should score 37 points or more.

Nine exercises are rated. Other sports and exercises could also be rated using the same criteria. The exercises that I have rated here are among those ranked highest by fitness professionals and by "conventional wisdom."

Barefoot grass walking, when practiced under the safety guidelines that are defined in this website, is a highly beneficial exercise. While it is not widely practiced as an aerobic exercise (i.e. with pace, duration, and other exercise objectives) in the U.S. it is my primary form of exercise. It has additional benefits that I did not include in this ratings system that only barefoot walking on grass has, but I left those benefits out in order to keep the comparisons on "a level playing field."

FactorBarefoot Grass WalkingDistance RunningSwimmingBicyclingWalking in Shoes (outdoors)YogaBasketballSoccer/FootballIce Skating
Overall Fitness8101010868108
Weight Lowering455542354
Breathing Circ'n & BP455543454
Muscl. Devel.335432333
Risk: Serious Injury534155224
Joint Impact415335113
Risk: Minor Injury & Irrit'ns434245224
Nature Scenery & Variety531430110
Sens'l Pleasure424214111
Relaxation (During)524335223
Relax and Sleep (After)545444343

A few clarifications on my scores:

  1. Exercises with muscle development of the entire body (e.g. swimming) score higher than lower-body muscle development exercises (e.g. bicycling, running, soccer).
  2. Risk of serious injury is based directly on the 2004 Consumer Products Safety Commission report (and later reports) that show bicycling to be the worst sport in total injuries that required doctors visits, surgeries, and/or hospitalization, followed by basketball and soccer. Also, the risk of being killed in a traffic accident is a unique factor of bicycling that was taken into account. Likewise, the risks of contact and collision injuries are factored into the injury scores for soccer and basketball.
  3. Joint impact and the resulting joint damage potential and pain that can result from it is worst for exercises with running, jumping and/or joint twisting movements.
  4. Cost factors include instructors that are typically needed as well as fees for pools, rinks, or gyms, plus costs for shoes and equipment.
  5. The nature factor is highest for exercises where you not only can literally go off the beaten path and get into natural, undeveloped areas, but it is the norm.
  6. The sensual pleasure factor is admittedly subjective. Certainly any exercise that has the potential for violent collisions would score low, and any exercise that allows you to be free of hot, sweaty, stinky shoes and go barefoot scores high.
  7. The relaxation/during and the relaxation/after scores are partly based on my personal experience. The higher risk of injuries and pain of any exercise result in a lower score of sleep enhancement, and the higher the aerobic value, the better for sleep enhancement. In my experience, swimming is unsurpassed as an exercise for sleep enhancement followed by barefoot grass walking.

The results of the Overall Exercise Ratings:
The BEST overall exercise is barefoot grass walking. A close second is swimming. Walking with athletic shoes outdoors (typically done on concrete paths or sidewalks) and bicycling are tied for third, and distance running is fifth.

Barefoot grass walking and swimming are rated OUTSTANDING and are the BEST types of exercise that there are according to these ratings.

Bicycling, walking with athletic shoes outdoors, and distance running are all EXCELLENT. Yoga and soccer are VERY GOOD. Ice skating is GOOD. Basketball is FAIRLY GOOD.

There are a number of other exercises that are good or at least fairly good that I did not include, and probably a few others that are very good or excellent. Certainly barefoot distance running is at least excellent. I did not include barefoot distance running as I do not do that exercise (although I do supplement barefoot walking sometimes with short distance barefoot running). Other more modern exercises such as pilates and aerobic dancing are likely to score well, but I do have sufficient experience with them to include them.

One final conclusion that I believe can be made is that barefoot grass walking, when done safely and at a reasonable exercise pace of at least 3.5 mph (5.6 km/hr), is certainly one of the very best forms of exercise overall. (Note -- my pace is typically in the 4 to 4.5 mph range). Walking barefoot on grass for exercise is quite possibly the most underrated and potentially valuable form of exercise. For those that truly enjoy being barefoot and walking on grass in bare feet it has a unique sensory stimulation and enjoyment that no other exercise can provide. Refer to my article "Natural Walking for Exercise" for more information.

If you would like to comment on the KERS ratings system, I welcome your feedback.