What’s the Difference Between Physical Activity and Exercise?

Longevity Exercise Physiology Drummoyne, Edgecliff, Marrickville, Bella VistaRandwickLindfield and Balmain dives into what makes exercise different to physical activity. One of my clients asked me this question the other day and I thought it was an excellent question, so we decided to write a blog about it for everyone. It also served as a perfect opportunity to introduce the FITT principles of exercise.

For starters, many people may think physical activity and exercise are the same thing—some may even use the two terms interchangeably. However, there are some key differences between the two.

Physical activity is classified as any form of bodily movement created by muscles that causes the body to use up energy.

On the other hand –

Exercise is planned, structured and repetitive physical activity that uses extra energy for the purpose of improving your health.

In short, exercise is a subcategory of physical activity: exercise can be considered physical activity but not the other way around. If you are wondering if what you’re doing currently as part of your routine is considered physical activity or exercise, the best way to do it is to check if it takes into account the FITT principles of exercise.

What are the FITT principles of exercise?

Frequency – this is how frequently you plan to exercise each week. For example, the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines recommends some form of activity on every day, however recommends specific muscle strengthening exercises 2-3 times per week. Frequency is completely dependent on the type of exercise you are aiming to complete, as well as your fitness level and medical history among other factors.

Intensity – is how hard you will be working during your training session. There are many ways to measure your intensity, for example heart rate monitors, rate of perceived exertion, shortness of breath scale (rating of perceived dyspnoea) or the talk test. Many people often use a combination of these to monitor their intensity. For example, someone who is just starting out exercising, we want them to still be able to have a conversation so they are not working too intensely, however we would not apply the same principle to an elite athlete as this would not be an effective way to measure their intensity.

Time – this is the duration in which your session goes for. Depending on what type of exercise you are completing, there are different recommendations, as well as your own physical ability. For example, the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines recommends for cardiovascular exercise to complete 150 – 300 minutes of moderate physical activity each week which works out to be approximately 20-40 minutes of cardiovascular activity each day.

Type – this refers to what form of exercise you are doing for example cardiovascular training vs resistance training. As Exercise Physiologists we prescribed both to our clients for a well-balanced program. Examples of cardiovascular exercise includes walking, jogging, running, dancing, swimming or cycling. Resistance training includes using free weights, machines, therabands or bodyweight resistance.

It is important to understand that everyone needs to exercise. A lot of us may think that we get plenty of exercise when we are walking around the shops, or if we are always on our feet at work—but this is only physical activity. This is not to say that physical activity is ‘easier’ and not as beneficial while exercise is ‘harder’ and better for your health, because some people may find walking around the shops to be quite intense, depending on their fitness level. It is not necessary to focus on semantics and dig out the exact definitions of physical activity compared to exercise, as this is not the point. However, it is important to recognise that all physical activity should have some sort of structure, plan and purpose (i.e. setting goals) behind it—and in doing so, this just so happens to be known as exercise.

If you are unsure where to start – please contact us today.

Contact Longevity Personal Training and Exercise Physiology Edgecliff, Lindfield, Marrickville, Randwick, Drummoyne, Balmain, Bella Vista on 1300 964 002 to enquire today.

Written by Jackie Cheung

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