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Physical Activity Versus Exercise

We all want to better our health and fitness and maintain good levels of both, but how do we actually achieve this? The answer is that we have to be physically active AND exercise. They are not the same thing though.

Physical activity is movement we do using skeletal muscles that requires energy. In other words, any movement is physical activity. Exercise, however, is structured, repetitive and intentional movement, which is likely to improve your fitness and health.

Doesn’t physical activity improve your health? Not really. Physical activity examples may be gardening, golfing, house work, or walking - but not walking intensely enough to give your heart, brain, or muscles a benefit. At best, physical activity may help you maintain some aspects of your health, but it is not likely to improve it.

Exercise is actually a special kind of physical activity, and we need both. It assists with the improvement of physical fitness, which consists of five specific components:

1. Muscular Strength: Strength training is the best way to improve and maintain your bones and keep you independent. Seniors should complete a total body strength training program 2-3 days per week. The program should be designed specifically for individual needs to minimize the risk of getting hurt. There are specific strength training guidelines for most medical concerns such as how many repetitions, what amount of weight to use, how many sets, and how often you should strength train for that muscle group.

2. Cardiorespiratory (aerobic) Fitness: Being cardiovascularly fit give you more energy, endurance, better sleep and it helps with depression and other mood disorders. Specific types of cardiorespiratory or “aerobic” activity can even improve brain health and fight Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and dementia or memory issues. This type of exercise improves your heart and lungs and is also great for stroke and cardiac rehab.

3. Muscular Endurance: This area enables you to do things longer before you get tired. It involves lower intensity for a longer duration. Even being on your feet for more than 15 or 20 minutes may be difficult, but endurance training helps you be able to do more things like walking, golfing, biking, and shopping with little or no fatigue. Some types of arthritis also benefit from muscular endurance training the most.

4. Flexibility: Flexibility training is underrated! Many aches and pains (especially low back) are due to poor flexibility and weak muscles. Flexibility training is a must to keep your joints and muscles healthy. The best thing about flexibility training is that it feels good! Flexibility training involves holding different positions for 15 or more seconds for 1-3 sets after your entire body has warmed up for at least 10 minutes.

5. Body composition: Being overweight and obesity are related to many health issues, but being underweight is not healthy either. We want a balance of healthy amounts of lean body mass (mostly muscle) and fat, we need some body fat to be healthy. Stepping on the scale is not a good indicator of your body composition, and neither is the BMI formula. One can be over-fat but not overweight because muscle weighs much more than fat; and vice versa.

Overall, we need physical activity every day and exercise at least 4 days per week including all of the above components to maintain good health. This may seem like a lot, but spending time to do this is the best investment you will ever make!

Exercise is the most effective treatment for many medical conditions such as high blood pressure, osteoporosis, diabetes, COPD, Parkinson’s disease, most types of arthritis, dementia and Alzheimer’s, and many more. Unfortunately, medications do not cure or “fix” these conditions.

Medications may help symptoms; EXERCISE treats the cause!

Stay active AND exercise


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