Exercise Vs. Physical Activity

Health & Wellness

Physical activity is defined as movement that involves the contraction of muscles. Any activities we do throughout the day that involve movement (like housework, gardening, walking or climbing stairs) are examples of physical activity.

Exercise is a specific form of physical activity. Exercise can be defined as “planned, purposeful, physical activity, performed with the intention of acquiring fitness, physical skill or other health benefits.” Strength training at the gym, swimming, cycling, running and playing sports, like basketball and tennis, are all forms of exercise.

While most daily physical activities are considered light to moderate in intensity, certain health benefits can only be accomplished with more strenuous physical activity. Improvement in cardiovascular fitness is one example. Jogging or running provides greater cardiovascular benefit than walking at a leisurely pace. Additionally, improved fitness doesn’t just depend on what physical activity you do, it also depends on how long and how vigorously you do it.

So, how can you tell if an activity is considered moderate or vigorous in intensity? If you can talk while performing it, it’s low to moderate. If you need to stop to catch your breath after saying just a few words, it’s vigorous. Depending on your fitness level, a half-court, 3 on 3 game of basketball might be moderate in intensity, while a full-court game would be more vigorous. Likewise, ballroom dancing would be moderate, but BodyStep would be considered vigorous. Remember, it’s not just the choice of activity; it’s how much exertion it requires.

Ideally, an exercise program should include elements designed to improve each of these components:

1. Cardiovascular Endurance – your ability to take in air, transfer the oxygen in that air to the bloodstream and circulate that oxygen and nutrient rich blood to all working parts of the body.

2. Muscular Strength – the ability of your muscles to exert maximal force.

3. Muscular Endurance – the ability of your muscles to contract and relax over and over again without fatigue.

4. Flexibility – the pain free range of movement around a joint that can be accomplished.

All exercise is physical activity, but all physical activity is not exercise. While it’s possible to address most of the four fitness components with a physically active lifestyle, an exercise program can help you achieve even greater and more specific benefits. To continually improve your heart health and achieve fitness goals, incorporate more structured activities of greater intensity into your schedule.

If your recent history has been pretty sedentary, simply increasing the amount of physical activity in your everyday life is a good beginning. Try raking some leaves, parking further out in the parking lot, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking to a coworker’s office instead of sending an email.

At the Wellness Center, we love helping people accomplish their large and small fitness goals. Give us a call at 870-541-7890. We would love to help you!

Wellness Center – Pine Bluff
1301 West 40th
Pine Bluff, AR 71603
(870) 541-7890


Wellness Center – White Hall
JRMC White Hall Health Complex
1600 West Holland
White Hall, AR 71602
(870) 850-8000


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