Physical Activity vs. Exercise: What’s The Difference?

Physical Activity vs. Exercise: What's The Difference

What is the difference between physical activity and physical fitness? Many people fail to recognize the distinction between the two, and when asked whether they are physically active, they tend to retort with how much exercise they do.

Let us understand the difference between the two before going further and analyzing the impacts this has on your health and well-being.

What is Physical Activity

This is defined as any activity that results in the utilization of energy. In other words, it is a bodily movement produced with the engagement of skeletal muscles.

Thus if you get up from the couch to switch on a light, only to sit back down again, this will be regarded as physical activity. 

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Walking, housework, climbing up and down the stairs, gardening, and all general activities done throughout the day come under physical activity. 

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What is Physical Exercise

Exercise is a planned, structured, repetitive, and intentional activity to maintain one’s physique. It is a subcategory of physical activity and may also lead to overall physical fitness. 

Components of physical fitness include

  • Cardiorespiratory fitness
  • Muscular strength fitness
  • Flexibility fitness
  • Muscular endurance fitness
  • Body Composition

Duration and Intensity

For good health, it is always advised that one should remain active. What often happens is that individuals may spend 30 minutes a day engaged in strenuous exercise in the gym and call themselves active. 

But if the rest of their day is spent sitting or lying down (during work, traveling, or leisure time activities), they are still largely inactive. Thus, despite working out, they may be at risk of acquiring lifestyle diseases.

Thus, the duration and intensity of both physical activity and exercise are important points of discussion. For optimal health, one should always be on the move. However, this does not mean that you should stand and walk the whole day.

Instead, engaging in physical activity between long intervals of sitting down will save you from adopting a sedentary lifestyle. Thus, getting up or stretching while sitting for long hours at work goes a long way.

Likewise, exercising at least once a day is beneficial in maintaining physical fitness. This should be focused on the results that you wish to achieve. 

Exercise for Health-Related Physical Fitness

Regular exercise and physical fitness are closely related. Exercises help in improving overall health, building muscle strength, and avoiding health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. Structured exercise also negates cardiovascular disease risk factors.

If you still wonder why you should engage in physical exercises, here are a few reasons to consider.

For Cardiovascular Fitness

Performing aerobic exercises leads to many health benefits like building cardiovascular endurance by improving circulation, which then lowers the heart rate and blood pressure. These should be done at least once a week for 30 minutes.

Examples of exercises that increase cardiovascular fitness are:

  • Brisk walking
  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Playing Tennis
  • Jumping Rope

Muscle Strengthening Activities

Muscular strength allows you to lift, carry and/or move heavy objects. It helps to engage in strenuous physical activities without growing tired. 

It also allows you to maintain your ideal body weight by enhancing your body’s composition and burning calories. Moreover, it also helps in improving bone density.

Examples of muscle mass-building activities are:

  • Squats
  • Push-ups
  • Planks
  • Abdominal Crunches
  • Jumping jacks
  • Long-distance running
  • Bodyweight exercises

For Flexibility and Balance 

Exercises like stretching benefit musculoskeletal health. This alleviates poor health conditions like joint pain, muscular injury, and cramping. 

A major concern for certain sections of the population is being susceptible to falls. This is due to balance issues which can be corrected with regular exercises. These stretches must be done every day, before engaging in any other activities.

Examples are:

  • Basic stretches
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi

Sports Activities

For those who do not like the monotony of the gym and would rather spend their time in recreational, competitive physical activities, this is the best way to reap great health benefits.

Sports are a known way of maintaining fitness while also helping you gain qualities like discipline, endurance, and teamwork. 

Examples of sports activities that are great for physical fitness are

  • Squash
  • Tennis
  • Racquetball
  • Road cycling
  • Mountain Biking
  • Water sports like- kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, rowing
  • Triathlons
  • Basketball
  • Volleyball
  • Football 
  • Skating

Evaluating Your Level of Physical Activity

Many individuals may not be aware of how sedentary their lifestyle is. We are here to help you come to that realization with a few simple steps. First, we just want you to take a journal and try and keep track of:

  • How many hours a day do you sleep- Setting an alarm or using a smartwatch to calculate your sleep cycle will help.
  • How many hours a day do you spend traveling- To work, school, or even otherwise.
  • What do you do in your leisure time- Do you go out or read a book or watch something?
  • Do you perform any sort of exercise, go to the gym, or practice yoga?
  • Do you get up and stretch after prolonged hours of sitting?

Now, we are not going to give you any score for answering this question. We are certain that a look at the numbers you have written down will answer the question in itself. 

Adopting a healthy, active lifestyle and engaging in regular physical activity, exercise, and eating healthy food may not seem like concerns today. But we promise you they will turn into problems you cannot control sooner than you would expect. 

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How can you avoid those problems that arise due to a sedentary lifestyle? Read on to learn. 

Combining Physical Activity and Exercise

Shot of a young handsome man running outdoors

In order to maintain physical fitness, synthesizing exercise and physical activity is essential. Unfortunately, in our daily life, we go through many actions automatically, without thinking about what the future entails.

Individuals who integrate the two into their daily routines are found to be at a lower risk for diseases that occur as a result of poor physical health. How can you achieve this?

First of all, we would like you to take a moment and think about all the physical actions you do every day on a repetitive basis. How much of your day do you spend sitting or traveling? 

This will help you analyze whether you lead a sedentary lifestyle and realize what changes you can possibly make for good health. You can start slow by including small activities like walking your pets or taking a solitary stroll through the park.

Such leisure-time physical activity can benefit your health in an amazing way. You can also engage in some gardening or help out by washing a few dishes or vacuuming the house.

Adopting an active lifestyle and integrating regular repetitive physical activity with a good workout session can bring about significant positive change. While doing any one of these is good enough, combining the two gives you a better chance of maintaining good health and keeping diseases at bay. 

To Summarize

Being healthy is a goal that everyone looks forward to. And though it may seem difficult at first, regular exercise and an active lifestyle show a great improvement in the quality of life of individuals.

It will not only help you control weight and combat diseases but will also boost your energy and elevate your mood. Regular physical activity and exercise also help you sleep better at night. 

Engaging in activities like walking or going to the gym helps you build social connections that last a lifetime as they are based on a shared love of getting fit. An active lifestyle also boosts your sex drive, makes you more confident, and more importantly, makes you feel happy and content. 

CharacteristicsPhysical ActivityPhysical Exercise
DefinitionAny movement of the body that requires the utilization of energy.Planned, intentional, structured, and repetitive movement that is done to achieve health benefits and body fitness.
IntensityCan be low or high depending on the type of activity.Begins slow or on a moderate level but can gain higher intensity over time.
DurationCan be done throughout the day and does not require drawing out a specific time period.Need of crafting out a time slot either in the morning or the evening and is a planned part of the day.
DietDoes not require any specific diet to be followed. Eating healthy is a choice rather than a compulsion.To reach certain fitness goals, a particular diet must be followed and general healthy eating habits are encouraged.  
ResultsConstant physical activity done in proportionate intervals of time leads to the overall health and well-being of the individual. Done with particular fitness outcomes in mind like strengthening muscle mass or attaining flexibility.
ExamplesWalking, climbing stairs, housework, gardening, or any labor activity done during the day.Running, swimming, cycling, weight lifting, working out at the gym, or engaging in sports like tennis, football, or golf. 
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