28 What are Physical Activity and Exercise?

Dawn Markell and Diane Peterson

Physical activity is defined as any movement carried out by skeletal muscle that requires energy and is focused on building health. Health benefits include improved blood pressure, blood-lipid profile, and heart health. Acceptable physical activity includes yard work, house cleaning, walking the dog, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Physical activity does not have to be done all it once. It can be accumulated through various activities throughout the day. Although typing on a phone or laptop or playing video games does involve skeletal muscle and requires a minimal amount of energy, the amount required is not sufficient to improve health.

Despite the common knowledge that physical activity is tremendously beneficial to one’s health, rates of activity among Americans continue to be below what is needed. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), only 1 in 5 (21%) of American adults meet the recommended physical activity guidelines from the Surgeon General. Less than 3 in 10 high school students get 60 minutes or more of physical activity per day. Non-Hispanic whites (26%) are more active than their Hispanic (16%) and Black counterparts (18%) as is the case for males (54%) and females (46%). Those with more education and those whose household income is higher than poverty level are more likely to be physically active.

The word exercise, although often used interchangeably with the phrase physical activity, denotes a sub-category of physical activity. Exercise is a planned, structured, and repetitive movement pattern intended to improve fitness. As a positive side-effect, it significantly improves health as well. Fitness improvements include the heart’s ability to pump blood, increased muscle size, and improved flexibility.

Dawn Markell & Diane Peterson, Health and Fitness for Life. MHCC Library Press. Sept 4, 2019. https://mhcc.pressbooks.pub/hpe295


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Introduction to Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals Copyright © 2021 by Dawn Markell and Diane Peterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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