Physical activity

Also known as: Fitness recommendations and Exercise

Definition

Physical activity -- which includes an active lifestyle and routine exercise -- plus eating well, is the best way to stay healthy.

Information

An effective exercise program needs to be fun and keep you motivated. It helps to have a goal.

Your goal might be to:

  • Manage a health condition
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve your stamina
  • Buy clothes in a smaller size

Your exercise program can also be a good way for you to socialize. Taking exercise classes or exercising with a friend are both good ways to be social.

You may have a hard time starting an exercise routine, but once you do start, you will begin to notice other benefits:

  • Better control of your weight and appetite
  • Improved fitness, making it easier to do everyday activities
  • Improved sleep
  • More confidence in yourself
  • Lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure

GETTING STARTED

You do not need to join a gym to exercise. If you have not exercised or been active in a long time, start slowly to prevent injuries. Taking a brisk 10-minute walk twice a week is a good start.

Try joining a dance, yoga, or karate class if they appeal to you. You could also join a baseball or bowling team, or even a mall-walking group. The social aspects of these groups can be rewarding and motivating.

The most important thing is to do exercises that you can maintain and enjoy.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Talk with your health care provider before starting an exercise program if:

  • You have diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or another long-term illness
  • You are obese
  • You have not been very active
  • You get chest pains or shortness of breath when you are active

Build physical activity into your regular routine

Simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference over time.

  • At work, try taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking down the hall to talk with a co-worker instead of sending an e-mail, or adding a 10- to 20-minute walk during lunch.
  • When you are running errands, try parking at the far end of the parking lot, or even down the street. Even better, walk to the store.
  • At home, do chores such as vacuuming, washing the car, gardening, raking leaves, or shoveling snow.
  • If you ride the bus, get off one stop before your usual stop and walk the rest of the way.

REDUCE YOUR SCREEN TIME

Sedentary behaviors are things you do while you are sitting still. Decreasing your sedentary behaviors can help you lose weight. For most people, the best way to decrease sedentary behaviors is to reduce the time they spend watching TV and using a computer and other electronic devices. All of these activities are called "screen time."

Some ways to decrease screen time are:

  • Choose one or two TV programs to watch, and turn off the TV when they are over.
  • Do not keep the TV on all the time for background noise -- you might end up sitting down and watching it. Turn on the radio instead. You can be up doing things around the house and still listen to the radio.
  • Do not eat while you watch TV.
  • Take the batteries out of your TV remote control and get up to change the channel.
  • Before you turn on the TV, take your dog or a neighbor's dog for a walk. If you are going to miss your favorite show, record it.
  • Find activities to replace TV watching. Read a book, play a board game with family or friends, or take an evening cooking class.
  • Work out on an exercise or yoga ball while you watch TV. You will burn calories. Or, set up a stationary bike or treadmill in front of your TV and use it while you watch.

If you like playing video games, try games that require you to move your whole body, not just your thumbs.

HOW MUCH EXERCISE DO YOU NEED?

Aim to exercise about 2.5 hours a week. Do moderate-intensity aerobic and muscle strengthening activities. Depending on your schedule, you could exercise for 30 minutes, 5 days a week or 45 to 60 minutes, 3 days a week.

You do not have to do your total daily exercise all at once. If your goal is to exercise for 30 minutes, you can break that up into shorter time periods that add up to 30 minutes.

As you become more fit, you can challenge yourself by increasing the intensity of your exercise by going from light to moderate activity. You can also increase the amount of time you exercise.

Which of the following is a benefit of regular exercise?The correct answer is all of the above. Getting regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body, mind, and spirit. Exercise helps your body work better. It can also make you look better, feel better, and even live longer.How much daily exercise do children need?The correct answer is 60 minutes. Even children who prefer staying inside and playing video games can learn to be active during the day. They can ride their bike to school, play active computer games, or help out with chores around the house.Kids are more likely to exercise if their parents are active too.The correct answer is fact. When you are active, your child will be too. Take walks before dinner, play hoops, or throw a baseball. Encourage your child to join a sports team. Some kids prefer team sports like soccer, and others prefer sports like swimming or tennis. Let your child choose.Regular exercise is good for your bones.The correct answer is fact. Doing exercises that put weight on your bones will help keep them strong and lower your risk of bone loss and breaks as you get older. Walking and strength training are good options. If you are older, haven't been active, or have a health problem, talk with your doctor before starting to exercise.Exercise can help you fight infections by:The correct answer is making your immune system stronger. Exercise helps your immune system fight off infections from bacteria and viruses. It also lowers your risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer. Weight or strength training can build muscle and improve strength at any age.The correct answer is fact. Doing weight or strength training will build your muscles and make you stronger. Even older adults can gain strength from these exercises. Use weights, resistance bands, or machines at a gym. Start slow, and work up to two 30-minute sessions every week.This is an important part of an exercise program:The correct answer is warming up and cooling down and stretching. Warm up your muscles and joints with gentle, full-body movements for 5 to 10 minutes before exercising. This can help prevent injury. Cool down by walking slowly then stretching muscles to help prevent muscle strains after exercise.Some exercises can make you less likely to fall.The correct answer is fact. Exercises that improve balance make you stronger, more flexible, and increase how long you can be active. One simple example is to stand on one foot while waiting in line. Or sit down and stand up without using your hands. Tai Chi and yoga can also help you develop balance.Which of the following can help prevent sports injuries?The correct answer is all of the above. But if you do get hurt, stop playing. Never try to “work through” the pain because this can cause more damage. Minor aches and pains you can treat yourself at home. More serious injuries should be treated by a doctor right away.Some people just don’t have time to be physically active.The correct answer is fiction. Being more active takes effort, but it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Break 30 minutes into three 10-minute sessions and work it into your schedule. Plan to exercise during the time of day you like best, before work, at lunch, or in the evening. Or, build it into your commute. Find what works best for you.

References

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Recommendation statement":http://www.health.gov/PAGuidelines/. 2008. Accessed March 20, 2011.

Review date:
September 11, 2013
Reviewed by:
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
Copyright Information A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2008 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.