Physical activity and exercise are often used interchangeably, but did you know that there are certain fine differences between the two? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exercise is actually a subset of physical activity. Teri Mosey, an exercise physiologist and instructor for Health and Fitness Certifications, explains that what may be considered as exercise for one person, may qualify as physical activity for another. The difference between physical activity and exercise is also influenced by individual factors such as physical fitness level and health condition. Read on to find out about the differences between physical activity and exercise, and the various exercise and physical activity benefits!

Telling the Two Apart

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides the following definitions for physical activity and exercise:

  1. Physical Activity: this refers to any bodily movement produced by a contraction of the skeletal muscles which increases energy expenditure above the basic basal level.
  2. Exercise: Exercise is a division of physical activity. The objective of engaging in exercise is usually to improve or maintain one or more aspects of personal physical fitness. Hence, exercise is planned, purposive, structured, and repetitive. Exercise is thus composed of physical activity which is performed with a set fitness or health related goal in mind.

According to David Bassett, Jr., PhD, a professor in the department of exercise, sport, and leisure studies at the University of Tennessee, physical activity includes routine activities such as climbing the stairs, doing housework, or walking. In fact any bodily movement which results in a contraction of the muscles can be classified as physical activity. Working out at the gym, running, cycling, engaging in sports, or swimming all count as exercise if they are performed regularly and with the underlying aim to improve or maintain your health and fitness level.

Exercise and Physical Activity Benefits

If you are looking for concrete weight loss and overall health improvement results then exercise is the way to go. Keep in mind that overtime, sustained and regular exercise will be considered as physical activity by your body. Individuals who exercise regularly often complain about a decrease in their weight loss progress after they have been exercising for some time.
This is because when you expose your body to a new form of physical activity such as brisk walking, or cycling to work every day, your body will consider it as a challenge and take time to get used to this new form of rigorous physical activity. However, your body will soon adapt to the challenge of performing the new bodily movements and for you, these activities will become routine physical activities instead of exercise.   
How can you ensure that your body benefits consistently from your regular fitness schedules? Implement the following guidelines to maximize the benefits from your exercise program:

  1. Keep varying your exercise routines. Use different exercise machines if you prefer to go to the gym, or invest in a few exercise DVDs that contain different exercise routines in order to keep challenging your body and to prevent it from getting used to the bodily movements.
  2.  Steadily increase the intensity of the exercise routine. Push yourself to the point where you can feel your muscles working, but can still carry out a winded conversation.