Why is physical activity necessary for everyone?

Column by Ellen Martin


To be sure, fitness is not a fad. Fads are short-lived. Trends, on the other hand, have staying power. Fitness is definitely a necessary trend.

Fitness, by definition, is the state or condition of being physically sound and healthy, especially as the result of exercise and proper nutrition. This article will delve in to the benefits of being physically active, examples of how to add physical activity to your daily routine, and the components of a well rounded exercise program. You might ask why some people are skinny and don't have to work out. It's not fair, we say. Well, the truth is, skinny people need to work out too. Some of us think that if we can just get those extra pounds off, we won't have to exercise anymore. Sorry, it doesn't work like that. The good news is being physically active can be fun and add life to your years.

As a health and wellness professional, I've been asked many questions over the years from people who want to be healthy. I'll try to answer a few here.

Why do I have to be physically active?I'm sure you have all heard in the past five years or so, that physical activity is a necessary part of our lives. In 2004, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranked obesity as the No. 1 health risk facing America. Weight gain and obesity are caused by consuming more calories than the body needs - most commonly by eating a diet high in fat and calories, living a sedentary lifestyle, or both.


Physical activity that is preformed regularly has many benefits. There is an abundance of scientific evidence that provides strong support for adults, older adults and children for lowered risk of premature death, heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, adverse blood lipid profile, metabolic syndrome, and colon and breast cancer. Not to mention, the prevention of weight gain, weight loss when combined with diet, improved cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, prevention of falls, reduced depression, better cognitive function in older adults, and reduction in arthritis pain. Wow! That list should encourage anyone to get out and be physically active.

So how much is enough?

Substantial health benefits are gained by doing physical activity according to the minimum federal duidelines. These guidelines are as follows:

• Children and adolescents (ages 6-17) should do one hour (60 minutes) or more of physical activity every day.

• Adults and older adults should do two hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or one hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes, preferably spread throughout the week.

Of course, any activity is better than no activity. For more information, go to www.health.gov/paguidelines/factsheetprof.aspxRemember: Physical activity comes in many shapes and sizes. That's great news! Physical activity does not have to be difficult or painful. Fitness can be fun and can be very individualized, depending upon a person's taste. Some examples of daily physical activity include: walking, or bike riding instead of driving, walking up stairs instead of taking an elevator, cleaning the house, swimming or water aerobics, dancing, gardening, pushing a stroller, or participating in an exercise program at the gym. Any type of activity that gets your heart rate elevated can be considered moderate physical activity. Use your imagination.


Kids need to be physically active too. There are simple ways for them to move. They can walk the dog, swim, play games outdoors, walk to school with a group of friends, play Wii, play badminton or volleyball in the yard. Play with your kids and you will both be more active.

What types of exercises do I need to do to stay healthy?There are five components of physical fitness, and these components represent how fit and healthy the body is as a whole.


1. Cardiovascular Fitness

Cardiovascular fitness is the ability of the heart, lungs and vascular system to deliver oxygen-rich blood to working muscles during sustained physical activity. When you exercise regularly, you can increase your cardiovascular fitness as your heart becomes more efficient at pumping blood and oxygen to the body, and the body becomes more efficient at using that oxygen. Some examples of cardiovascular fitness activities include, brisk walking, biking, running, swimming, cross country skiing, or anything to raise your heart rate.

2. Muscular Strength

Muscular strength is the amount of force a muscle or muscle group can exert against a heavy resistance. When you use your muscles regularly, they become strong. Strength training is an example of muscular strength exercises.

3. Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to repeat a movement many times or to hold a particular position for an extended period of time. Muscular endurance prevents undue fatigue from work and other daily activities, and allows greater success and enjoyment in athletic and recreational endeavors. Any cardiovascular activity, such as running, biking, brisk walking and playing sports is considered a muscular endurance activity.

4. Flexibility

Flexibility is the ability to move joints and muscles through their full range of motion, which increases blood circulation. Stretching of the muscles is an example of flexibility.

5. Body Composition

Body composition refers to the amount of body fat, versus the amount of lean muscles, bones and organs. A personal trainer can test your body composition.

Anyone can be physically active and have fun doing it. You can hire a certified personal trainer to help you with an individualized exercise program. Otherwise, just do activities that raise your heart rate and you'll soon see and feel the many benefits derived from physical activity.

Have a fitness question? Just drop Ellen a line at ellenm@sspr.org.


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