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Physical Activity and Exercise: What's the Difference?

What do you call your workout routine, daily walk, or group fitness class?

Do you call it activity, exercise, physical activity, or maybe something completely different? Physical activity and exercise are two terms that are often confused for one another or used interchangeably, and there actually is a difference.

Physical activity is any bodily movement that results in energy expenditure. Physical activity can include housework, walking the stairs, general labor, walking, gardening, or other activities that are done throughout the day that involve movement. Being physically active at least 150 minutes per week can lead to a reduced risk of disease and improved quality of life.

Exercise is a kind of physical activity. It is planned, structured and used to improve aspects of physical fitness. Intensity, duration, and frequency of the exercise are typically used to measure progress and improvements. We simplified exercise guidelines in a post last year; if you are curious about whether you are meeting the guidelines, revisit it!

Physical fitness is a set of attributes that people can achieve. Health-related components of physical fitness include cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular endurance, muscular strength, body composition, and flexibility and can be measured in a fitness test.

All three terms seem very similar but the differences are in application. A lifestyle that includes physical activity can address all the components of physical fitness, but an exercise program can help you achieve performance-related benefits. For individuals interested in maintaining good health, physical activity can be a great place to start. To achieve fitness or additional health-related goals, you will need to incorporate structured and higher-intensity exercise into your routine.

Now that you know the difference between physical activity and exercise, will anything about your routine change? What are some of the ways that you use physical activity and exercise to stay healthy? Share any suggestions or comments below for other readers.