Woman having a sports drink after a run

Is There Really a Difference Between Physical Activity and Exercise?

Many terms get used interchangeably in the health and fitness universe, and two of the most common ones are exercise and physical fitness.

Exercise is a specific type of physical activity that is planned, with the purpose of performing physical activities to realize particular fitness goals and other health rewards. For example, working out in a gym, following personal training programs, running, cycling, swimming, as well as sports such as baseball, tennis, football, etc.

Physical activity, on the other hand, is essentially any movement that involves muscle contraction, such as walking, house chores, gardening, walking up and down the stairs, etc. But how do they really differ, aside from their purpose?

Intensity is the Key to Differentiating Exercise and Physical Activity

The intensity of most physical activities is light to moderate, but there are specific health rewards that you could only achieve by performing more vigorous physical activities. Take cardiovascular fitness, for instance.

Running, jogging, or even brisk walking offers a greater benefit than just doing housework or going on a leisurely walk. In addition, doing just any physical activity will not necessarily help accomplish your fitness goals because it does not solely depend on what activities you do, but more importantly, how long you perform an activity and how vigorously you do it. This is why it is vital to work out within a target heart range when performing cardio exercises so you could reach a specific intensity level.

How Do You Figure Out the Intensity Level of a Physical Activity?

Men playing basketball one-on-oneEssentially, if you are still able to talk while doing physical activity, it is moderate. However, if you have to catch your breath and stop completely just to talk, it is vigorous. Additionally, depending on how physically fit you are, a one-on-one basketball game might be more vigorous than playing with a team, which is probably just moderately intense. Put simply, it is not about the type of physical activity you do, but how much exertion the activity requires of you.

Main Elements of a Physical Fitness Program

What should an exercise program include? Ideally, it must be developed in a way that improves the following:

  • Cardiovascular-Respiratory Endurance – This is your ability to perform aerobic exercises like running, jogging, brisk walking, swimming, rowing, cycling, jumping rope, etc.
  • Flexibility – You could improve your flexibility by doing exercise that incorporates stretching such as Pilates and yoga.
  • Muscular Endurance – You could improve your endurance by doing conditioning exercises or calisthenics, swimming, running, or lifting weights.
  • Muscular Strength – You could enhance your muscular strength through weight training, using weight machines, dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells.

Although you could try to improve these physical fitness components by being more physically active, a personalized exercise program could help you reap even better fitness benefits. With that said, increasing your daily physical activity is an excellent start, but in order to attain your physical fitness goals and enhance overall health, you should ideally incorporate vigorous and structured workouts into your everyday life to gain even more benefits.

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