Exercise is not the same as physical activity. Commonly the terms are confused and used interchangeably. While both physical activity and exercise require movement, the two are DEFINITELY not the same! Generally speaking, all movement is good. In fact, there is now mounting evidence that sitting too long is in itself a dangerous health risk (irrespective of other factors!). However, physical activity is a broader term not to be confused with EXERCISE. The difference between exercise and physical activity is that exercise is primarily used to build fitness. It has very specific scientific parameters (such as proper frequency, intensity, or duration) that elicit an adaptation, a training effect. This training effect is a lasting positive change. In contrast, activity does not necessarily result in a training effect.
Think of exercise as “physical activity with rules”. Formalized into a program, exercise is designed to bring about a change (a positive result). In other words, exercise results in increased strength, or endurance, or flexibility, or speed, or power, etc. Walking isn’t “exercise”, until you walk fast enough, long enough and often enough to bring about a change in your cardiovascular system (and hence a health benefit).
If you are “active”, do you still need exercise?
After over 20 years of helping people improve their health through lifestyle changes, my advice is that any movement is better than NO movement. So, if you are physically active, keep it up! However, don’t make the common mistake of confusing physical activity with exercise. It is possible to be active and yet still be “unfit”. To enjoy optimal health and decrease health risk, it is important to be active and to exercise.
Equally important is to know that EXERCISE IS NOT ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL.
Your exercise prescription will depend on many factors, some of which are: your goals, your existing fitness level, any pre-existing health conditions, special orthopedic considerations, etc. Before starting to exercise, be sure your program (exercise prescription) meets your needs. Consulting a qualified professional is always a great idea!