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Physical activity is more important than exercise

Do you want to get fit and lose weight, but don't have time for a formal workout every day? Try increasing your daily physical activity instead. Research suggests your efforts may pay off.

The difference between exercise and physical activity

Everyone knows exercise and daily physical activity are important, but what is the difference between the two? Exercise is a repetitive, structured and focused action; think bicep curls, step aerobics or crunches. Physical activity is a broader term referring to general body movements done throughout a person's normal day. Working, gardening, house chores, playing with your children - those are all physical activities. While there's no denying exercise is good for your health, “there's a significant benefit to being physically active, even without intending to be,” says Eyal Ben-Arie, M.D., a vascular surgeon at Piedmont.

While formal exercise will go a long way in building muscular and aerobic strength, increasing physical activity during your daily routine has significant benefits as well. Increased activity can help increase cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, improve bone health, and reduce the risk of depression. In fact, when compared to people engaged in high-level physical activity, such as those who train for marathons or do cross-training, people who have active jobs/lifestyles have generally better cardiovascular health.  

“Being active in a variety of ways is better for more than just cardiovascular health, but also better in the perspective of musculoskeletal health and exercise-related injuries” says Dr. Ben-Arie.

Adults aged 18 to 64 should aim for 150 minutes of physical activity per week. Luckily, as Dr. Ben-Arie explains, “The easiest ways to increase your general physical activity are some of the most obvious.”

Simple ways to increase your physical activity

  • Park your car further away: Instead of wasting time circling the parking lot for the perfect space, park farther away and spend that time walking.
  • Take the stairs: Climbing stairs not only gets your heart rate up, but it also engages important lower body muscles.
  • Make a point of going for a walk: Taking a walk is the perfect time to reflect upon your day or to share time with loved ones.
  • Speed up your chores: Turn on some upbeat music when doing house or yard work. Not only will it increase your heart rate, but it may help you get your chores done faster.

Make physical activity fun

  • Start a walking club: Instead of eating lunch at your desk or sitting and visiting with friends, walk and talk. Encourage your friends and co-workers to take a short walk around the block or office.
  • Plan active vacations: Next time you are somewhere new, skip that bus tour. Plan a sightseeing tour on foot instead. Not only will the added steps increase your physical activity, it'll give you a chance to slow down and see things the way the locals do.
  • Hit the dance floor: Looking for a date night? Go beyond the usual “dinner and a movie” and try a dance class.

As you go about your day, look for creative ways to increase your physical activity. Listen to your body, work up to your goals over time and stop if you begin to feel pain. While you may notice gradual changes to your appearance, keep in mind that the most important benefits of increasing your activity are happening inside where you can't see them.

For additional health and wellness tips, click here.

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