I often get asked: “Is doing physical activity enough, or do I need a structured fitness program to get in shape?”
My answer is different for each person who asks. I have to tailor my answers because fitness is not a one size fits all situation. For many people simply increasing their physical activity will be enough to meet their health goals and expectations; however, for others I may recommend a detailed fitness plan.
Simply explained, physical activity is body movements that involve the contraction of your muscles. All of the activities we do throughout the day that involve movement, such as walking, lifting, cleaning and yard work, are examples of physical activity. Most people perform at least a few physical activities everyday without even realizing it. For instance, standing and cooking or popping out to post a letter both require basic movement.
You might find it interesting to write a mental list of some of the physical activities you conduct each day without usually thinking about them. You may be surprised by how long, or how short, your list is.
Exercise is a specific form of physical activity that is planned, purposeful and performed with the intention of gaining specific adaptations in the body, such as stronger muscles, increased flexibility or improved cardiovascular function. Dancing, swimming, cycling, and running are all examples of exercise.
There can be a fine line between the two, so the best way to determine if you’re just being active or if you’re exercising is to do the talk test.
It is the intensity of the task being performed that will determine the health benefits that you will gain from the activity.
Look out for these four physical fitness components, and you’ll understand why exercising is just as important as being physically active:
Although it is possible to address all of these fitness components with a physically active lifestyle, an exercise program can help you achieve even greater benefits.
Increasing the amount of physical activity in your everyday life is a perfect way to start on the path toward a healthier, happier more energized you. But if you really want to achieve increased fitness, you’ll want to incorporate structured, more vigorous activities into your schedule a few days a week.
The key to living a healthy, active lifestyle is to take it one day at a time. And try to choose activities that you thoroughly enjoy. Over time, you can increase intensity and perhaps the duration. Remember that your body is unique, and understanding your health needs (not your neighbor’s needs) will keep you on the right track toward a healthy lifestyle.