Physical Activity

  • 21 Minutes Read

Physical Activity

It's all about moving! I believe that each of us, despite whatever interests or physical limitations we have, can learn to enjoy regular physical activity. The trick is to discover activities we enjoy doing, are willing to make time for, and can perform without pain or injury. Whether you call it exercise, physical activity, or moving, just do more of it! Sit less, stand more, and walk more. Being sedentary is a health risk. Being active and fit, even with a higher body weight, has protective health effects, especially for the heart. But the lowest health risk comes from being fit and achieving a healthy body weight.

The health benefits of regular physical activity include:

If you have tried to start an exercise program in the past and have failed, then it is time to rethink your approach. This article will help you get started.

Tip: If you are seeking information about how exercise affects your Calorie Budget, use of the Step Bonus feature, or how fitness devices sync with MyNetDiary apps, then read Planning Weight & Calories.

Types of Activity

There are three basic types of physical activities. Ideally, include all three in your exercise program:

Aerobic Activity: Uses large muscle groups that increase use of oxygen. Strengthens the heart and burns lots of calories. Examples of this type of activity include brisk walking, bicycling, running, jogging, high intensity training, and stair climbing.

Resistance Training: Strength training that enables muscles to grow, while also improving bone density, torso strength, and balance. Resistance training is especially helpful in preserving muscle mass as we lose weight. Examples of this type of activity include weight lifting, push-ups and pull-ups, sit-ups, lunges, and squats.

Flexibility, Balance, and Body Conditioning: Muscle stretching and lengthening exercises. Also improves balance, strength, flexibility, and breathing through specific types of movements. Examples include yoga, tai chi, Pilates, Ballet Barre, and stretching.

How Much Is Enough?

There are a number of exercise guidelines published in the United States and they are all very similar. The purpose of these guidelines is to reduce health risk - they are not meant for athletic training. That is, following these recommendations will help us live longer and healthier lives with a lower risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.

Guidelines for Adults:

  1. Aerobic Activity
    1. 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, spread out over the week. Example: Brisk walking 30 minutes/day x 5 days/week.
    2. Or
    3. 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity exercise, spread out over the week. Example: Lap swimming 25 minutes/day x 3 days/week.
  2. Weight resistance
    1. Weight resistance exercise at least 2 non-consecutive days per week. Example: lifting weights on Mondays and Thursdays.

Aerobic activity does not have to be performed 30 minutes continuously. Aim for 10 minutes at a time if that is easier for your schedule and joints. For example, you could walk briskly for 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch, and 10 minutes in the evening just before or after dinner.

For children and teens, 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise most days of the week is the goal.

Sometimes people dismiss the importance of weight resistance exercise. Lifting weights or performing strength exercises helps us:

Tip: Use MyNetDiary to help you plan and track your activity.

Progress Using the FITT Principle

Many people make the mistake of doing too much, too soon. Think of FITT Principle to help you make changes in activity level so that you can progress without setbacks. Try to change only one of these factors at a time rather than changing all three at once. This will help reduce your risk of injury as you get started in a more active lifestyle. For most of us getting back into activity, increasing frequency first is usually easiest, then time or duration of activity, and lastly, intensity.

To learn more about how to progress your exercise plan, read Just Getting Back into Exercising? Think FIT! at MyNetDiary blog.

If you find a specific goal (e.g. walking or running a 5K race) motivates you, then consider using an online Couch to 5K program to help you progress.

More on Intensity

Intensity of activity is related to both oxygen consumption and calories burned. All activities will burn calories, but higher intensity activities will burn more calories per unit of time than will lower intensity exercises. For instance, if I window shop for 1 hour, I will only burn about 150 calories. If I walk briskly and continuously, I will burn about 250 calories. Over the course of one month, I will lose 1 lb more by walking briskly than I would by window shopping. For more detailed information about exercise intensity, read Appendix A at the end of this article.

Tip: If you log 1 minute of an exercise item you can see how many calories are burned per minute. Higher intensity activities have a higher calories burned per minute value.

Set a SMART Goal

If you just say you will exercise more, then you probably won't. When you first started using MyNetDiary, you set a weight goal, right? For increasing activity, make a SMART goal. That is, write out a goal that is: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and includes time. For instance, my goal is to walk 45 minutes, 6 days per week at a pace of 3 MPH.

Do I Have to Exercise to Lose Weight?

Technically, no. For most of us, reducing calories intake is the most efficient way to consistently create the calories deficit needed for weight loss. Just think about it this way: would it be easier for you to exercise hard and long to burn 500 calories every single day or to simply reduce food intake by 500 calories per day to lose 1 lb per week? But that doesn't mean you can't do both. And getting into the habit of regular exercise is especially important for weight loss maintenance. Losing weight is only half the battle - keeping the weight off is far more challenging than losing weight. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends 60 minutes or more of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week to avoid weight regain. This would be about 300 minutes per week.

Exercise Safety

To reduce risk of injury, include a 5-minute warm up and cool down for moderate and vigorous intensity exercises. Ideally, stretch gently before and then more actively after exercising. Abdominal exercises are especially important for those of you with chronic back pain. See a physical therapist to learn how to develop "core strength" so that you can do more moderate and vigorous activities with less back pain or pain flare ups. Also, if you have a joint injury or have altered mobility from loss of limbs, see a physical therapist for an appropriate exercise plan. Ask your healthcare provider for a referral - most insurance plans in the U.S. will cover this service with a copay.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that "people with chronic diseases, such as a heart condition, arthritis, diabetes, or high blood pressure, should talk to their doctor about what types and amounts of physical activity are appropriate." If you are unsure what you can safely do given your age or medical condition, please ask your healthcare provider for assistance.


Sticking with an exercise plan or just getting regular physical activity can be a huge challenge for many people. See the table below for common barriers and tips on how to overcome those barriers.


Make exercise social - include friends, family, or neighbors.

Exercise to music or listen to a podcast or audio books while exercising.

Mix up your routine. Walk a couple times, go dancing once a week, or ride your bicycle at other times during the week.


Seek help from a physical therapist for appropriate exercises if you are injured or have altered mobility.

Seek help from a certified personal trainer to develop an exercise plan that includes aerobic activity, strength training, and stretching to reduce risk of pain or injury in the first place.

Be sure to warm up and cool down. Learn how to stretch tight muscles.

Use the FIT Principle to gradually progress your exercise routine to avoid injury.

Need for a Reward

Notice how you feel during or after activity. If you were feeling stressed out before, do you feel more calm or relaxed after activity?

Do you feel less depressed or more energized?

How's that headache - better now?

Longer term: notice your body weight - is it easier to lose weight or maintain weight loss when you include regular activity? Do you notice that your body shape is more attractive or fit looking?

Noticing these beneficial effects will motivate you to exercise when you're just not in the mood for it.

Lack of time This is the most common reason why people don't exercise regularly. But for most of us, this really boils down to how we prioritize our time. Believing that our health is just as important as money, caretaking, the kids' after school activities, and household chores will help you find the time to exercise. Schedule activity in your calendar!
Cost If you have a limited income and do not feel comfortable walking in public spaces, then ask your local recreation center if they have discounts for seniors, families, or individuals with limited funds. The center might not advertise these discounts. If you are 65 years or older, then check if you are eligible for Silver Sneakers. This makes gym membership very affordable or sometimes free.
Hate Exercise Then don't exercise! Just do something that requires you to move your body. A lot of folks don't realize that many activities count as physical activity - bird watching, gardening, swing dancing, home improvement, exergaming, Pokemon Go, etc.

More Resources

CDC How much physical activity do adults need?
CDC Getting Started with Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight
CDC General Physical Activities Defined by Level of Intensity
Mayo Clinic Exercise: When to check with your doctor first
MyNetDiary blog posts on exercise and activity
National Institute on Aging Go4Life YouTube Videos

Sometimes people are surprised that I consider physical activity as important as a healthy diet to maximize health and reduce risk of disease. Our bodies are meant to move. When we have no physical activity, the most perfect diet in the world will not be enough to maintain health. If you get nothing else from this article, remember that doing something is better than doing nothing. Truly, move more. It is that simple.

Last Updated on May 15, 2018

Appendix A: Exercise Intensity

Intensity of exercise or activity is related to both oxygen consumption and calories burned. All activities will burn calories, but higher intensity activities will burn more calories per unit of time than will lower intensity exercises. For instance, if I window shop for 1 hour, I will only burn about 150 calories. If I walk briskly and continuously, I will burn about 250 calories. Over the course of one month, I will lose 1 lb more by walking briskly than I would by window shopping.

Moderate-intensity exercise will allow you to carry on a conversation, but will be too exerting to allow you to sing. Your heart rate will rise to about 50% - 70% of its maximal rate giving the perception that you are exerting yourself "somewhat hard." Maximal heart rate can be estimated by subtracting your age in years from 220. For example, if I am 47 years old, then my estimated maximal heart rate is 173 beats per minute (BPM). Moderate-intensity exercise will raise my heart rate to 87 BPM - 121 BPM.

With vigorous exercise, you might have difficulty talking. Your heart rate will rise to 70% - 85% of its maximal rate giving the perception that you are working "very hard" and have to push yourself to continue. Unless you are very fit and have been exercising regularly, do not jump into a program that requires vigorous-intensity activity. You are more likely to get injured and sidelined than if you simply start with a program of moderate-intensity exercise. See the chart below for examples of exercise at both levels of intensity.

To learn how to take your heart rate, read Target Heart Rate and Estimated Maximum Heart Rate and to learn more about perceived exertion, read Perceived Exertion (Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale) at the CDC.

Moderate Intensity
Ballroom dancing
Bicycling (less than 10 mph)
General gardening/yard work
Golf (with walking and carrying clubs)
Tennis (doubles)
Walking briskly (3.5 mph)
Weight lifting (lighter weights)
Vigorous Intensity
Bicycling (faster than 10 mph)
Heavy yard work (e.g. chopping wood)
Jumping rope
Swimming, water aerobics, aerobic dance
Race walking
Weight lifting (heavy weights)

Many ordinary household chores can be counted as moderate-intensity exercise: manual car washing and waxing, washing windows or floors, or raking leaves. More vigorous chores include shoveling snow, and work that requires carrying heavy loads while walking or climbing stairs. Chopping wood is an especially good calorie burner!

May 15, 2018
Katherine Isacks
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDE - Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)

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