Understanding the Differences Between Physical Activity and Exercise

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Understanding the Differences Between Physical Activity and Exercise

Physical fitness is a major component towards leading a healthy lifestyle. Two components that are beneficial to physical fitness include physical activity and exercise. Most individuals would consider physical activity and exercise as two interchangeable words however, there are differences. Physical activity is defined as any body movement that increases the energy expenditure above resting.

Any activity therefore can be considered physical activity as long as there is an increase in metabolic rate. Some examples of physical activity include walking the dog, doing housework, yard work, gardening, or standing. Alternatively, exercise is planned physical activity directly utilized to maintain or increase any of the components of physical fitness.

Planned activity usually involves activities such as weight lifting, running or training for a half marathon, or yoga class. Listed below are some fundamental differences between physical activity and exercise in addition to examples.

The Components of Physical Fitness

Physical fitness entails the following components:

  • Cardio-respiratory endurance is the ability of the heart to pump oxygenated blood throughout the body and the body’s ability to uptake and utilize oxygen for the working cells. Cardio-respiratory endurance is measured via VO2max tests, which are often performed in sports medicine clinics or in the presence of a physician. Having a high VO2max or cardio-respiratory endurance is important for reducing overall health disease risk, especially as one continues to age. Try a running or biking program to help elevate VO2max to help keep the body efficient and healthy.
  • Muscular strength is the ability of a muscle to exert force through a particular range of motion. Muscular strength is increased through a weight training program and is a major contributor to the “beefed-up look”.
  • Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle to continuously contract through a given range of motion. When attempting to increase muscular endurance, it is best to perform high reps. Muscular strength and endurance often work synergistically.
  • Flexibility is the ability of joint to move through a particular range of motion. Flexibility programs are an important aspect to any physical activity program and should be performed at least four days per week.

Differences in the Type of Physical Activity and Exercise

Examples of types of physical activity are virtually endless. Different types of physical activity elicit different health outcomes. For example, there are more health benefits if an individual is farming manually compared to if an individual is performing house work. Health benefits tend to be more pronounced when the intensity of physical activity is higher as compared to when the intensity of the activity is lower.

Similarly, when the intensity of exercise is higher, more health benefits can be expected. Some examples of exercises that one may perform to increase health would be boot camps, weight training, body building, sprinting, and speed walking. Creating a physical activity or exercise goal prior to starting a program is most beneficial, especially when one is being active for optimal health.

The Optimal Intensity of Activity

Engaging in physical activity and exercise is a rewarding and healthy lifestyle feature. In order to receive health benefits, the proper intensity needs to be accomplished. Moderate intensity physical activity is recommended by various health organizations and on most days of the week. Moderate intensity activity is considered 50-69 percent of the heart rate max.

To calculate this, the maximal heart rate method is used. An individual aged 40 years would have a maximal heart rate of 180 beats per minute (calculate 220-40). From here, multiply 0.5 x 180 for a lower range of 90 beats per minute. Similarly, multiply 0.69 x 180 for an upper range of 124 beats per minute. This would be a 40 year old individual’s moderate intensity heart rate range. If heart rate is not calculated for a range, use the sweat test. If one is walking and there is a little perspiration on the forehead, then this intensity is adequate.

Increasing physical activity is crucial to living a healthy lifestyle. Whether the activity is considered physical activity or exercise, staying active will benefit health. If fitness goals are the main aspect to increasing activity, then consider a structured exercise program inclusive with an exercise physiologist to help make your time more efficient.

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