Physical Activity Basics

What is physical activity?

What is physical activity? 

Two parents and their young child, who all have medium-dark skin, walking on a sidewalk. The parents are each holding one of their child's hands and are swinging the child playfully up into the air.Playing sports, swimming, walking with friends, or even pulling weeds in the garden are all examples of physical activity. 

Physical activity includes any time you use your muscles to move your body to spend some energy and raise your heart rate. Exercise is one type of physical activity that includes structured activities like going to the gym, attending an exercise class, heading out for a jog or a wheel. But many of the other things you do in your daily life at home, school, work, or recreational settings are also physical activity.  

What type of physical activity do you do each day, or each week? Write out a list and keep track of what keeps you moving – whether it’s doing laundry, mowing the lawn, taking a yoga class, or going for daily walks. It all counts toward movement. 

Types of physical activities 

A wide variety of movements can be considered physical activity. For example: 

  • A person with medium skin, wearing a hijab, sits on a silver exercise ball. They are holding dumbbells in their hands.Recreational sports or activities like running, canoeing, swimming, water aerobics, golfing, lacrosse, dancing, skiing, skating, or martial arts 

  • Mind-body activities like yoga or tai chi 

  • Walking, cycling, or wheeling 

  • Outdoor activities like gardening, yardwork, or gathering or harvesting foods 

  • Indoor activities and tasks of daily living like cleaning the house, cooking, and going up and down stairs 

  • Exercises prescribed by a health and exercise professional 

Exercise is a type of planned, structured physical activity that is designed to maintain or improve physical fitness. Activities like lifting weights, walking on a treadmill, or taking a yoga class are different forms of exercise that specifically work to improve strength, endurance, or flexibility. 

There are different types of exercise that can work together to support health and wellness: 

  • Therapeutic exercise: Often developed with the help of a healthcare professional (e.g., a physiotherapist), this is a set of planned motions designed to help you improve a rehabilitation goal. It may incorporate awareness of body posture and alignment. Outcomes include developing ‘muscle memory’ by training your joints and muscles to move in healthy patterns, strengthening your muscles, and improving balance or mobility. 

  • Range of motion exercise: These are also called stretching or flexibility exercises, and they keep your joints moving to help reduce pain and stiffness. To achieve the most benefit, these exercises are done regularly. 

  • Strengthening exercise: These maintain or increase muscle tone and protect your joints. Resistance-based exercises include weight-training movements done with free weights, your own body weight, resistance bands or weight machines. The frequency and intensity of strengthening exercises should be discussed with a doctor, physiotherapist, kinesiologist, or other qualified health and exercise professional. 

  • Endurance exercise: These activities – like walking, swimming, and cycling – help you to keep going for long periods of time. They strengthen your heart, give you energy, help control your weight, and help improve your overall health.  

  • Mind-body exercise: Activities like tai chi, yoga, pilates or martial arts that combine mental focus, controlled breathing, muscle strengthening, flexibility, and balance exercises can also be meditative, promoting relaxation and wellness. 

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