Differences Between Physical Activity and Exercise

December 25, 2019
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Many people still confuse physical activity and exercise, a confusion that may not have life-threatening consequences but can cause them to skip out on the benefits of exercise. In this article, we will take a closer look at the many differences between physical activity and exercise.

General and Specific Difference

Physical activity is a movement where the muscles contract. As such, every activity we do during our waking moments that involve movement is considered as physical activity – walking and running, climbing the stairs, doing the housework, and gardening, among others.

Exercise is a specific type of physical activity. It’s specific in the sense that it’s a planned and purposeful physical activity with the express aim of achieving overall fitness, among other health benefits. Examples include cycling on a stationary bike, running on a treadmill, and lifting weights at 24 Hour Fitness for an hour or so.

Difference in Intensity

Most of the physical activity we perform on a daily basis is considered light to moderate in intensity. When we say light to moderate intensity, we mean that you can still talk when you’re doing the physical activity. When you’re walking, doing chores, or gardening, you can still hold a conversation like you normally would when you’re just sitting down or standing up.

But when it comes to exercise, heavy intensity is the key to reaping its health benefits. The physical activity should be vigorous, which means you have to catch your breath before you say a few words or you can’t carry on a normal conversation while engaged in it.  You must then do the physical activity vigorously, such as jogging non-stop for 10 kilometers or swimming for 10 laps.

With physical activity, your heart rate also remains normal. With exercise, your heart pumps more blood and, thus, beats faster so as to supply more blood (i.e., oxygen and nutrients) into your muscles. Your muscles need fuel for the vigorous movements during exercise.

Difference in Components

Physical activity and exercise are different based on their components, too. You can perform a physical activity without thinking about endurance, strength and stamina but this isn’t the case with exercise. You’re engaged in exercise with the aim of challenging and improving on one or all of these aspects:

  • Cardio-respiratory endurance where your lungs can take the pressure of an intense aerobic exercise
  • Muscular strength, a must when you’re into weightlifting, whether free weights or weighted equipment or bodyweight
  • Muscular endurance that ensures your muscles can sustain their strength through prolonged exercise
  • Flexibility, a state where the joints and muscles can be stretched in their full range of motion (i.e., stretching)

Yes, you can address these fitness components through a physically active lifestyle. But if you want to enjoy greater health benefits, you should engage in more vigorous exercise.

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