Understanding The Difference Between Physical Activity & Exercise

September 20, 2018

Physical activity and exercise are both important pieces of a healthy lifestyle and each contributes to your overall physical fitness. However, physical activity and fitness are two different terms with different definitions, and they are often misused.

By understanding what each word means, you will be able to have a better understanding of your fitness and health goals.

What Is Physical Activity?

According to ACE Fitness, physical activity is defined as movement that is carried out by the skeletal muscles that require energy. In other words, any movement you do counts as physical activity.

Examples of physical activity include doing house and yard chores, playing with the kids, and taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

Therefore, no matter what types of moving around you are doing every day, those movements positively benefit to your overall well-being. Physical activity can also range from light to vigorous intensity!

So Then, What Does Exercise Mean?

Unlike physical activity, exercise refers to planned, structured and repetitive movement with a goal of fitness improvements. Exercise can be seen as a subcategory of physical activity and is a more specific form.

For example, running on a treadmill, lifting weights, swimming and more are all different forms of exercise. Keep in mind, that like physical activity, exercise can also vary in intensity but most exercises start out at moderate intensity.

Exercise also helps improve physical fitness and is composed of five specific areas:

  • Cardiorespiratory fitness
  • Muscular strength fitness
  • Muscular endurance fitness
  • Flexibility fitness
  • Body composition

Each of those components of exercise addresses important aspects any healthy lifestyle should include – regular aerobic exercise, conditioning and strength, and even stretching. While all of them are able to be incorporated into a physically active lifestyle, a concrete exercise routine can help you achieve even greater benefits for your body and mental health.

Benefits Of Both:  How To Add Into Your Current Routine

To break it down even simpler:

Physical activity = health outcomes

Exercise = fitness outcomes

Take the time to evaluate yourself for a 24-hour period and see how active you are by keeping a fitness journal. How much moving around do you do from the moment you wake up to the time you go to bed again? Do you find yourself moving around sporadically during the day or having a fairly sedentary lifestyle?

Include your normal activities like going to the gym, gardening, taking the dogs for a walk.

By looking at a day in your life big picture, it will help you determine what you need to include more of in regards to physical activity and exercise. The overlap of physical activity and exercise can provide you with many positive benefits, but it is always important to have a balance of each.

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