What’s the difference between exercise, physical activity, and movement?

All refer to different ways of using your body. The differences lie primarily in intent, intensity, and duration, but other elements also impact what category your activity might fall into. And don’t worry about not working hard enough – it’s all good for you!

Movement

The broadest category of, well, body movement. For our purposes, movement means using your body in an irregular, spontaneous manner, often to complete a specific task. Movements may use all of your muscles or joints, or just some of them, depending on the action you are working to complete. We consider movement as the brief, one-off activities that move us through our daily lives.

Examples: Walking from your parked car into the office or the supermarket, making the bed, bending over to pick a pen up off the ground, knitting

Physical Activity

For our purposes, physical activity is movement that is sustained for more than a few minutes and that mildly or moderately increases your heart rate and energy expenditure, and is often a planned effort. Like the “movement” category, physical activity may use some or all of your muscles and joints, depending on what you’re doing.

Examples: Doing yardwork, gardening, walking the dog, doing housework

Exercise

Planned, sustained physical activity usually consisting of repetitive movements. All exercise is physical activity, but not all physical activity is exercise. How can you tell one from the other? Exercise is done with the specific goal of improving your health or fitness. It’s also usually done at a higher intensity – that is, it’s a little (or a lot) more physically challenging!  There are many subcategories of exercise, like resistance training or endurance training, each of which can impact different elements of health and fitness.

Examples: Going for a brisk walk or a run, doing a strength training workout, going to a yoga or group fitness class

While exercise is done specifically to get healthy or improve fitness, physical activity can also benefit your body. If you feel like jumping into regular workouts is a big ask for you right now, please remember that it’s ok to start slow! Physical activity can have huge benefits for your body, especially if you aren’t especially active when you start out. It’s generally accepted that the health benefits of both physical activity and exercise occur in proportion to the amount of activity – every little bit of physical activity can add benefit! In fact, research has shown that you can achieve health and fitness improvements with sessions of physical activity or exercise can be as short as five to ten minutes, though the level of benefit will depend greatly on your base level of fitness and the total amount of physical activity or exercise you get in a day.

But even if you’re fit and healthy, five to ten minutes of some sort of activity is still good for you. It’s often easier to find five or ten minutes a few times a day than time for a whole workout. Where do you find yours?

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