As a Physical Therapist, a large part of my job is targeted at getting people to exercise. One thing that I hear on a near daily basis is something along the lines of being active is a good substitute for exercise. An example is that spending 3-4 hours gardening means that someone was active enough that they “got their exercise in”. If we are just looking at using calories as energy, that’s probably true. But if you stop and think, when was the last time you saw a pro-athlete spend their offseason working in the garden to get ready for the season?
What is Activity vs Exercise?
Let’s look at some definitions here. Activity (as defined by Merriam-Webster) is “the quality or state of being active.” Exercise (in the context of physical wellness) is “bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness”. So activity is moving. Exercise is moving with a purpose. When comparing activity vs exercise, that may seem like a small difference, but intent matters. Whether your goal is weight loss, getting stronger, or having less pain, being active helps to a degree. However, if you’ve had the same level of activity for a long period of time and you’re still in decline, that should be a HUGE indicator that the activity you’re relying on isn’t enough to maintain the level of health you want.
In other words, being active alone does not equate to exercise. Exercise is used to push limits as a planned, progressive form of activity that will improve your performance or health. Go to a commercial gym and you’ll see people doing bicep curls with 30 pounds, doing 3 sets of 10. Next month, if they’re still doing 30 pounds for 3 sets of 10, they’re not exercising, they’re being active. If they’ve worked up to doing 30 pounds for 3 sets of 15, they’ve been exercising.
It may sound like I’m discrediting activity, which is not my intent. Activity is great! Activity is where you get to enjoy the benefits of exercise. Playing pick-up games on the weekend, getting out in the garden, playing with the kids, finishing up some DIY projects… you know, fun stuff. To really make improvements, you need to do more than just be active.
So how does somebody start exercising?
- Set Goals – Having a plan doesn’t matter if you don’t have a purpose. Setting goals gives you something to look forward to, and will help determine the rest of the plan. Making goals isn’t something as simple as saying, “I want to lose weight!”. It needs to be more specific. The SMART goal is something you can use to create more specific and attainable goals, which makes you more likely to be able to follow and meet those goals.
- Progression – As mentioned above, exercise requires some degree of progression. If you’re doing the same thing every time, you’re not improving. If your goal is running, you should be increasing your distance, time, and/or speed on a regular basis (usually weekly for runners). For resistance training, adding additional weight, repetitions, or sets is a form of progress.
- Record and Plan – Keeping a record of your exercise is absolutely vital. Don’t count on your memory to track your progress. It’s also vital that you have a plan for your progression. You should know how much progress you’ll be making every day, week, or month before you actually make that progress. If we use running as an example, you might plan to have a long run that increases in distance by a mile per week. For resistance training, you might have a plan to increase your weight/reps/sets on a weekly basis at a steady pace. Make sure that the amount that you’re being smart, though. Don’t go from 1 mile to 5 miles or 10 pounds to 50 pounds in one week. Don’t overdo it. Fitness is a long-term thing, it doesn’t happen overnight.
If you don’t know where to start, runnersworld.com and bodybuilding.com have plenty of information on beginners looking for direction or people who have been at it for a while and are looking for more information or ideas. No matter what you’re looking for, make sure that you’re setting goals, planning out your exercise, and recording what you’ve done. That’s how you make progress and test your limits.
Got questions? Feel limited in what you’re able to do? The staff at Limitless Physical Therapy in Eugene, OR can show you how to be limitless.
***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice. Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns.