Physical Activity Basics

Physical activity is any body movement that requires more energy than resting. Exercise is only one type of physical activity, there are other forms that are less structured and planned. Being physically active is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Types of physical activity:

  • Aerobic activity strengthens your heart and lungs muscles and allows them to work better. There are different levels of intensity (light, moderate, vigorous) that are all beneficial, however moderate and vigorous activity has more benefits for heart and lung health. Examples include:
    • Swimming, walking, dancing, jumping jacks, jump rope, running
    • Soccer, tennis, basketball
    • Household chores (mopping, brooming, gardening)
  • Muscle Strengthening activity improves your strength, power and endurance in your muscles. Strengthening your muscles reduces the risk of injury and increases your ability to do everyday activities without getting tired as easily. Examples include:
    • Push-ups, lifting weights, climbing stairs, shoveling
  • Bone Strengthening activity produces force on your bones and promotes bone growth and strength. Strengthening your bones reduces the risk of osteoporosis. Examples include:
    • Lifting weights, jumping jacks, running
  • Stretching improves your flexibility in your ligaments and joints and allows you to more your body with ease.  Examples include:
    • Stretching, yoga, Pilates

Physical activity recommendations

  • Children and adolescents 
    • An hour (60 minutes) of moderate to vigorous daily activity is recommended
    • Children and adolescents should participate in aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone strengthening activities.
  • Adults 
    • 2 ½ to 5 hours of moderate intense activity or
    • 1 to 2 ½ hour of vigorous intense activity is recommended
    • Activity can be spread throughout the week in a minimum of 10- minute bouts for maximum effect
  • Adults over 65 
    • 2 ½ to 5 hours of moderate intense activity or
    • 1 to 2 ½ hour of vigorous intense activity is recommended
    • Older adults should only engage in the amount of physical activity that their conditions allow
    • Aerobic and muscle strengthening activities can have substantial benefits in balance and minimizing accidental falls

For more information on guidelines for physical activity from the Department of Health and Human Services visit, Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition.

Based on the season, where you live or the amount of time you have it can get difficult to reach the recommended amount of daily exercise. For more information on how to keep your family moving visit the following programs and campaigns:

  • The Move Your Way campaign is a physical activity campaign from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It provides facts on physical activity and videos on how to overcome multiple barriers for adults and parents.
  • The CDC provides Physical Activity information and education to individuals and communities across America. Visit to find more information and resources on physical activity for yourself and your family.
  • It features the Active People, Healthy Nation, a national initiative to help Americans become more physically active.
  • For more tips on increasing your physical activity visit, Tips for Starting Physical Activity.

Tips for Starting Physical Activity

Along with changing your diet, drastic changes to your physical activity can be discouraging. Remember, you do not have to be in a pile of sweat for it to count as exercise. A simple stretch or brisk walk is enough. Below are a few tips to start engaging in more physical activity for you and your family:

  • Set goals. Setting goals allows you to progress and stick with your physical activity routine. Examples can be as small as walking 10 minutes 5 times a week or making it to the gym 2 times a week. Remember to regularly check in with your goals if they need to be modified.
  • Start slowly. Unless you have been engaging in regular moderate exercise prior to starting your physical activity journey it is safer to start slowly. Try 30 minutes of physical activity a week and work your way up to the recommended 150 minutes.
  • Group activities. Engaging in group activities or classes can motivate and provide support to continue. Enroll your children in community sports teams or lessons.
  • Try new activities. If you are feeling unmotivated try a new activity like yoga, Pilates or boxing. You can even try these activities in the comfort of your own home, YouTube has many follow-along videos in these topics and more. You can even make it a family activity for everyone to enjoy.
  • Make it a part of your routine. Incorporating physical activity into our busy lives can be difficult, making it a part of your daily routine can make it a little easier. Try going to a local gym after work that is on your way home or pick a certain time for physical activity and stick to it.
  • Walk whenever possible. Walking is one of the easiest ways to engage in physical activity. It is also mode of transportation, if your distance is short enough try walking instead of driving.
  • Stay away from “diet” foods. These foods are often labeled as “fat-free,” “fat reduced,” or “low calorie.” Even though their fat content has been significantly reduced they often compensate by adding a lot of sugar. Always check the nutrition label to know what you are putting in your body.
For more tips on eating healthier visit, Daily Tips to Help Your Family Eat Better