Physical activity. Physical fitness. Exercise. These words are fixtures in modern culture. Scores of us seek physical fitness, for fun and for health, often using exercise as a means to that end. But what do these terms actually mean? Why should we care? And why the heck isn’t movement a central part of the conversation? Even to the fittest among us, our increasingly sedentary lifestyle is creating issues for healthy, injury-free movement. Our overall capacity for movement is taking a hit, and that has serious implications for our ability to be fit and active over the long term. What can we do? The solution is to move more and move better, and that means broadening our perspective of what physical fitness activities actually are. Let’s get our heads out of the gym and back into our bodies – where they can do more good than you might imagine!
First, let’s dig into those words:
Physical activity is the things we do to move our bodies around in the world every day. These things could be sports, recreation, work or household chores and other activities. Exercise is a subset of that physical activity, which is structured and repetitive, and usually has a specific goal associated with it; often the achievement or maintenance of physical fitness.
Physical fitness describes a set of traits that allows us to be prepared and successful at a wide variety of physical tasks. These attributes are typically either health or skill related, and are measured by specific tests. We’re commonly taught that a person’s level of fitness (or lack thereof) depends on cardio-respiratory strength & endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition and flexibility. Makes sense, right?
But there is one very important measure getting lost in the equation here, and that’s movement itself. For optimal, long-term health, our bodies need to move in a wide variety of different ways, with different loads, in different ranges of motion at varying speeds and intensities. We need our bodies to be able to respond to all of those factors with ease. And for that the ability of our structures to handle that mo
Think about it. We move a lot less than we did in decades past. The daily movement tasks of our lives have largely been automated – so we don’t have to move our bodies much to get from place to place; to do our work, to maintain our homes, even to recreate! Regardless of our dedication to physical activity and fitness, we are moving our bodies around a lot lot less than we once did. And we sit a whole lot more. We may blow it out at the end of the day in a spurt of strenuous physical activity – but that sedentary stuff leaves its mark.
The trouble is, our bodies get really good at doing what they do often. When we are inactive for many hours of every day – our structures do lots of good work to keep us upright and stable in a sitting position. If you have a job where there is repetitive motion, your body will, for better or worse, develop patterns for managing that repetitive motion. The human body is designed to be adaptive and efficient. Our bodies quite literally adapt to the movements we do most. Our structures morph to provide stability and support where they’re consistently needed most.
Physical activity,” “exercise,” and “physical fitness” are terms that describe different concepts. However, they are often confused with one another, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. This paper proposes definitions to distinguish them. Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure. The energy expenditure can be measured in kilocalories. Physical activity in daily life can be categorized into occupational, sports, conditioning, household, or other activities. Exercise is a subset of physical activity that is planned, structured, and repetitive and has as a final or an intermediate objective the improvement or maintenance of physical fitness. Physical fitness is a set of attributes that are either health- or skill-related. The degree to which people have these attributes can be measured with specific tests. These definitions are offered as an interpretational framework for comparing studies that relate physical activity, exercise, and physical fitness to health.
Being physically fit depends on how well a person fulfills each of the components of being healthful.
When it comes to fitness, these components include
- cardiorespiratory fitness
- muscular strength
- muscular endurance
- body composition
So, you can tell if someone is physically fit by determining how well they perform in each component.
Canadian adults aged 18 to 79 spent on average a total of 4 hours and 11 minutes per day being physically active. Of the time spent being active, the majority was spent in light activity (3 hours and 46 minutes), and the remaining time in moderate-to-vigorous activity (MVPA) (25 minutes) (Chart 1). Out of those 25 minutes of MVPA, 12 minutes were done in periods of at least 10 minutes (data not shown). On average, adults spent 9 hours and 48 minutes of their waking time being sedentary.