What is physical activity?

Physical activity is any form of exercise or movement of the body that uses energy. Some of your daily life activities—doing active chores around the house, yard work, walking the dog—are examples. To get the health benefits of physical activity, include activities that make you breathe harder and make your heart and blood vessels healthier. These aerobic activities include things like brisk walking, running, dancing, swimming, and playing basketball. Also include strengthening activities to make your muscles stronger, like push-ups and lifting weights.

The good news?

People of all types, shapes, sizes, and abilities can benefit from being physically active. If you have a disability, choose activities that work for you. Talk with your health care team about the amount and types of activities that are right for your ability or condition.

Getting Started

Thinking about adding physical activity to your life, but not sure how to get started? Sometimes taking the first step is the hardest part. If you have not been active in some time, start at a comfortable level and add a little more activity as you go along. Some people find that getting active with a friend makes it easier to get started.

Is something holding you back?
Think about the reasons why you have not been physically active. Then try to come up with some ways to get past what is keeping you from getting active.

Have you said to yourself . . . ?

I haven’t been active in a very long time.

Solution: Choose something you like to do. Many people find walking helps them get started. Before you know it, you will be doing more each day.

I don’t have the time.

Solution: Start with 10-minute chunks of time a couple of days a week. Walk during a break. Dance in the living room to your favorite music. It all adds up.

It costs too much.
Solution: You don’t have to join a health club or buy fancy equipment to be active. Play tag with your kids. Walk briskly with your dog for 10 minutes or more.

Build up over time

Start by doing what you can, and then look for ways to do more. If you have not been active for a while, start out slowly. After several weeks or months, build up your activities—do them longer and more often.

Walking is one way to add physical activity to your life. When you first start, walk 10 minutes a day on a few days during the first couple of weeks.

Add more time and days. Walk a little longer. Try 15 minutes instead of 10 minutes. Then walk on more days a week.

Pick up the pace. Once this is easy to do, try walking faster. Keep up your brisk walking for a couple of months. You might want to add biking on the weekends for variety.

Do it your way.

  • Pick an activity you like and one that fits into your life.
  • Find the time that works best for you.
  • Be active with friends and family. Having a support network can help you keep up with your program.
  • There are many ways to build the right amount of activity in your life. Every little bit adds up and doing something is better than doing nothing.

Choose activities that work all the different parts of the body—your legs, hips, back, chest, stomach, shoulders, and arms. Exercises for each muscle group should be repeated 8 to 12 times per session. Try some of these activities a couple of days a week:

  • Heavy gardening (digging, shoveling)
  • Lifting weights
  • Push-ups on the floor or against the wall
  • Sit-ups
  • Working with resistance bands (long, wide rubber strips that stretch)

For best success

  • Team up with a friend. It will keep you motivated and be more fun.
  • Pick activities that you like to do.
  • Track your time and progress. It helps you stay on course. Fill in the forms on pages 20 and 21 to help set your activity goals. Before you know it, you’ll be able to do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of activities at a moderate level each week.
  • Add in more strength-building activities over time. For example, you can do sit-ups or push-ups.

Planning your activity for the week

Physical activity experts say that spreading aerobic activity out over at least 3 days a week is best. Also, do each activity for at least 10 minutes at a time. There are many ways to fit in 2 hours and 30 minutes a week. For example, you can do 30 minutes of aerobic activity each day, for 5 days. On the other 2 days, do activities to keep your muscles strong. Find ways that work well for you.

Want to learn more about how to add physical activity to your life?

  • Join a fitness group.
  • Talk to your health care provider about good activities to try.
  • Speak to the worksite wellness coordinator at your job.

Adding more time
Already doing 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of aerobic physical activity? Good for you! Do you want to gain even more health benefits from physical activity? Slowly add more time to your weekly routine.

Adding more effort
Instead of doing only moderate-level activities, replace some with vigorous aerobic activities that will make your heartbeat even faster. Adding vigorous activities provides benefits in less activity time. In general, 15 minutes of vigorous activity provides the same benefits as 30 minutes of moderate activity.

Have you been walking for 30 minutes 5 days a week? On 2 days, try jogging instead of walking for 15 minutes each time. Keep on walking for 30 minutes on the other 3 days.

Would you like to have stronger muscles? If you have been doing strengthening activities 2 days a
week, try adding an extra day.

Mix it up!
You can do all moderate activities, all vigorous activities, or some of each. You should always start with moderate activities and then add vigorous activities little by little. To mix it up, you can try 30 minutes of biking fast to and from your job 3 days a week. Then play softball for 60 minutes 1 day. Then lift weights for 2 days.

You should mix vigorous aerobic activity (biking fast) with moderate aerobic activity (softball) and activities for stronger muscles (weights).

Source: Department of Health and Human Services: health.gov and SupportLinc: psh.mysupportportal.com