Nutrition Expert- Saba Shaikh, Practicing Clinical Nutritionist, Mumbai
Physical activity,” “exercise,” and “physical fitness” are terms that describe different concepts. However, they are often confused with one another, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure. The energy expenditure can be measured in kilocalories.
Physical activity in daily life can be categorized into occupational, sports, conditioning, household, or other activities.
Exercise is a subset of physical activity that is planned, structured, and repetitive and has as a final or an intermediate objective the improvement or maintenance of physical fitness.
Physical fitness is a set of attributes that are either health- or skill-related (1).
There are many types of physical activity, including swimming, running, jogging, walking and dancing, to name a few.
Being active has been shown to have many health benefits, both physically and mentally. It may even help you live longer (2).
Benefits Of Regular Physical Activity
It Can Make You Feel Happier
Exercise has been shown to improve mood and decrease feelings of depression, anxiety and stress (5).
Exercise may block negative thoughts or distract you from daily worries.
Exercising with others provides an opportunity for increased social contact.
Increased fitness may lift your mood and improve your sleep patterns.
Exercise may also change levels of chemicals in your brain, such as serotonin, endorphins and stress hormones. (3)
Furthermore, exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms in people suffering from anxiety. It can also help them be more aware of their mental state and practice distraction from their fears (2).
In fact, a study in 24 women who had been diagnosed with depression showed that exercise of any intensity significantly decreased feelings of depression (6).
It Can Help With Weight Loss
Some studies have shown that inactivity is a major factor in weight gain and obesity (7, 8).
Your body spends energy in three ways: digesting food, exercising and maintaining body functions like your heartbeat and breathing.
While dieting, a reduced calorie intake will lower your metabolic rate, which will delay weight loss. On the contrary, regular exercise has been shown to increase your metabolic rate, which will burn more calories and help you lose weight (7, 8, 9, 10).
It Is Good for Your Muscles and Bones
Exercise plays a vital role in building and maintaining strong muscles and bones.
Exercise helps release hormones that promote the ability of your muscles to absorb amino acids. This helps them grow and reduces their breakdown (11, 12).
As people age, they tend to lose muscle mass and function, which can lead to injuries and disabilities. Practicing regular physical activity is essential to reducing muscle loss and maintaining strength as you age (13).
Also, exercise helps build bone density when you’re younger, in addition to helping prevent osteoporosis later in life (14).
Interestingly, high-impact exercise, such as gymnastics or running, or odd-impact sports, such as soccer and basketball, have been shown to promote a higher bone density than non-impact sports like swimming and cycling (15).
It Can Increase Your Energy Levels
Exercise can be a real energy booster for healthy people, as well as those suffering from various medical conditions (16, 17).
One study found that six weeks of regular exercise reduced feelings of fatigue for 36 healthy people who had reported persistent fatigue (18).
It Can Reduce Your Risk of Chronic Disease
Lack of regular physical activity is a primary cause of chronic disease (19).
Regular exercise has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular fitness and body composition, yet decrease blood pressure and blood fat levels (20, 21, 22, 23).
In contrast, a lack of regular exercise — even in the short term — can lead to significant increases in belly fat, which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and early death (24).
Therefore, daily physical activity is recommended to reduce belly fat and decrease the risk of developing these diseases (25, 26).
It Can Help Skin Health
Your skin can be affected by the amount of oxidative stress in your body.
Oxidative stress occurs when the body’s antioxidant defenses cannot completely repair the damage that free radicals cause to cells. This can damage their internal structures and deteriorate your skin (27).
It Can Help Your Brain Health and Memory
Exercise can improve brain function and protect memory and thinking skills.
To begin with, it increases your heart rate, which promotes the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain.
It can also stimulate the production of hormones that can enhance the growth of brain cells (27)
Exercise offers incredible benefits that can improve nearly every aspect of your health from the inside out.
Regular physical activity can increase the production of hormones that make you feel happier and help you sleep better.
It can also improve your skin’s appearance, help you lose weight and keep it off, lessen the risk of chronic disease and improve your sex life (27).
Physical Activity Guidelines
Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you currently do no physical activity, start by doing some, and gradually build up to the recommended amount.
Be active on most, preferably all, days every week.
Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week.
Do muscle strengthening activities on at least two days each week. (3)
How Can I Make Exercise A Part Of My Regular Routine?
• Make everyday activities more active. Even small changes can help. You can take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk down the hall to a coworker’s office instead of sending an email. Wash the car yourself. Park further away from your destination.
• Be active with friends and family. Having a workout partner may make you more likely to enjoy exercise. You can also plan social activities that involve exercise. You might also consider joining an exercise group or class, such as a dance class, hiking club, or volleyball team.
• Keep track of your progress. Keeping a log of your activity or using a fitness tracker may help you set goals and stay motivated.
• Make exercise more fun. Try listening to music or watching TV while you exercise. Also, mix things up a little bit – if you stick with just one type of exercise, you might get bored. Try doing a combination of activities.
• Find activities that you can do even when the weather is bad.You can walk in a mall, climb stairs, or work out in a gym even if the weather stops you from exercising outside. (4)