- Engaging in regular physical activity has many benefits that include more energy, better concentration, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, a reduced risk of many illnesses, and it is much better for the environment.
- Individuals should reduce the amount of time that they are inactive and take the opportunity to make the active choice every chance they get.
- Experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate- or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week: that’s only 30 minutes a day on 5 days of the week.
- Physical activities can be placed into three main categories (aerobic, strength training and flexibility) with aerobic activities providing the greatest benefits.
- Exercising too much can lead to consequences such as sleep problems, heart problems, irritability, depression and injury.
Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do to enhance and maintain optimal health.
This section summarizes the most important information you need to know about physical activity. For more information consult the "For Those Who Want to Know More" section below.
Physical activity is body movement that challenges you, increases your heart rate and breathing, and makes your muscles exert effort. The ultimate goal of regular physical activity is to increase your strength and stamina, so that you can enjoy your life more, and be able to do the things you want to do!
These activities increase your breathing and heart rate. They challenge your cardio-vascular system. They include:
- Brisk walking (here's a walking training schedule for beginners)
- Running (here's a running training schedule for beginners)
- Aerobic class
These activities increase or maintain muscle strength. They include:
These are activities that elongate---stretch---muscles and tendons. They include:
- Stretching : A guide to basic stretches from Mayo Clinic
- T’ai chi
Some sources now list balance exercises as another important type of physical activity, particularly for older adults.
You can find an in-depth discussion of the benefits of physical activity from the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. They reviewed and evaluated thousands of research studies. Some of their findings on the health benefits of physical activity include:
- Lower risk of early death
- Lower risk of heart disease and high blood pressure
- Lower risk of unhealthy cholesterol levels
- Lower risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
- Lower risk of colon cancer and breast cancer
- Weight loss, particularly when combined with reduced calorie intake
- Reduced depression
Other benefits include:
- Better quality of sleep
- Better sex
- Better cognitive function
- Enhanced sense of self-esteem
- Improved strength and fitness
- Enhanced bone density
- Reduced risk of falls
The ultimate goal of regular physical activity is to increase your strength and stamina, so that you can enjoy your life more, and be able to do the things you want to do!
Many Canadians are more inactive than they realize. Canadian adults sit for most of their waking hours:
- We sit in a car or on the bus to commute to and from work and school
- We sit many hours a day in front of a computer, at a desk, in class
- We use email, direct-deposit, and online shopping to accomplish tasks that used to require us to walk a bit
- We sit to relax: eating, surfing, texting, or socializing with friends.
Long periods of sitting raise your risk of illness. Even among people who get enough regular exercise, if they spend too much time sitting, it has negative impacts on their health.
Along with engaging in 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigerous physical activity every week, it's also important to move more throughout your day. Even light activity can have a positive impact on wellbeing and mortality. The latest Canadian physical activity guidelines include suggestions for limiting sedentary behaviour, or sitting. Since there aren't any Sedentary Guidelines for grownups yet, take a look at the ones for teenagers, and go from there:
- Limit recreational screen time to no more than 2 hours per day; lower levels are associated with additional health benefits.
- Limit sedentary (motorized) transport, extended sitting and time spent indoors throughout the day.
Simple ideas to "move more" include:
- Plan to stand up from your computer or textbooks for at least a few minutes every hour.
- Make the active choice every chance you get: take the stairs instead of the elevator, stretch while watching tv, do something active when socializing with friends.
- The article titled "27 Ideas to Help You Spend Less Time Sitting Down" can give you more ideas.
What about society's role?
Your personal efforts to adopt healthy behaviours are made easier or harder by forces within your community. The economic and social conditions that influence the health of people and communities are called the Social Determinants of Health.
To learn more, see Physical activity and the "Social Determinants of health".
- All adults should avoid inactivity. Some physical activity is better than none, and adults who participate in any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits.
- For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous intensity aerobic activity. This fun video expands on the idea of "30 minutes a day".
- Aerobic activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes each, and preferably, it should be spread throughout the week.
- For additional and more extensive health benefits, adults should increase their aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes a week of moderate intensity, or 150 minutes a week of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous intensity activity.
- Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities that are moderate or high intensity and involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.
The Canadian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines Handbook can tell you more! It has specific examples of what regular physical activity can look like in different people’s lives, depending on their age, health, and life circumstances. The website also has log sheets for tracking your physical activity.
The Mayo Clinic website offers a good overview of the basics of physical activity.
Read some encouraging success stories of how different people with different lives and responsibilities successfully include physical activity into their lives.
- If you are doing your own research on the Internet be sure to know how to evaluate the reliability of information on the Internet
- How to effectively set, achieve and maintain your health goals
- Physical activity and mental health
- The Mayo Clinic website offers informative, evidence-based in-depth articles on a variety of topics related to physical activity.
- Ready to get started? Mayo Clinic and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) both offer good video collections showing you how to do muscle strengthening exercises properly, as well as ideas for getting started with aerobic activity.
- The 9 minute video that went viral called "23 1/2 hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our health" highlights the importance of regular physical activity.
- Active At Any Size! has information on being active for people who are overweight or obese
- Nutrition for athletes and active people
- Physical activity and the "Social Determinants of Health"