Physical Activity

Physical activity simply means movement of the body that uses energy. Walking, gardening, briskly pushing a baby stroller, climbing the stairs, playing soccer, or dancing the night away are all good examples of being active. For health benefits, physical activity should be moderate or vigorous and add up to at least 30 minutes a day.

Moderate physical activities include:

  • Walking briskly (about 3 ½ miles per hour)
  • Hiking
  • Gardening/yard work
  • Dancing
  • Golf (walking and carrying clubs)
  • Bicycling (less than 10 miles per hour)
  • Weight training (general light workout)
Vigorous physical activities include:
  • Running/jogging (5 miles per hour)
  • Bicycling (more than 10 miles per hour)
  • Swimming (freestyle laps)
  • Aerobics
  • Walking very fast (4 ½ miles per hour)
  • Heavy yard work, such as chopping wood
  • Weight lifting (vigorous effort)
  • Basketball (competitive)

Some physical activities are not intense enough to help you meet the recommendations. Although you are moving, these activities do not increase your heart rate, so you should not count these towards the 30 or more minutes a day that you should strive for. These include walking at a casual pace, such as while grocery shopping, and doing light household chores.

Walking is an easy way to improve health, wellness and physical fitness. This is true for anyone at any age! Walking is one of the simplest forms of exercise yet it provides many health benefits. Here are some of them:

  • Strengthens the heart and lungs
  • Lowers risk of heart disease
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Keeps bones and muscles strong
  • Helps with managing weight
  • Decreases feelings of anxiety, tension or depression
  • Improves ability to rest and sleep soundly
  • Lowers risk of developing diabetes
  • For people with diabetes, can lower blood glucose levels
  • Improves balance and agility

There are many advantages to choosing walking as a way to increase daily physical activity:

  • Easy to do
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to fit into any schedule
  • Low impact with little risk of injury
  • Pleasant and relaxing
  • An excercise that does not require special skills or knowledge
  • A time to engage in social interaction with friends

A great way to track your progress and stay motivated with walking is to use a pedometer. A pedometer is a small measurement tool that you clip on your belt or the waistband of your pants. It counts the number of steps you take throughout the day.

For the first few days of wearing a pedometer, go about your usual routine, but wear your pedometer all day long. This will give you an idea of how many steps you typically take each day. This number is your baseline or starting step-count number, and it is a number to build on.  Here are some guidelines:

  • If you walk less than 5,000 steps a day, you probably do little physical activity outside of your daily routine. Focus on gradually adding steps to your day. A goal of adding 500 to 800 steps per day is a good start; continue gradually adding steps from there.
  • If you walk between 5,000 and 7,499 steps, you’re physical activity level is low-active. Steadily build more steps in your day to improve your health and level of physical fitness. Just five to ten minutes of additional walking will add 500 to 1,000 steps!
  • If you walk between 7,500 and 9,999 steps, you are somewhat active and are doing enough walking to benefit your health and reduce your risk of chronic disease. Doing a bit more may provide additional benefits especially when it comes to controlling weight.
  • If you walk 10,000 or more steps per day, you are active and are achieving the number of steps you need to for optimal health. This amount of walking has been shown to prevent weight gain or regain after weight loss.

The US Surgeon General recommends that all American adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on most days of the week (in addition to your normal daily routine). A brisk 2-mile walk, about 4000 steps, (at a 4.0 mile per hour pace) will help you reach this recommended amount of physical activity and improve your health. To prevent injury, don’t forget to warm-up and cool down before and after vigorous walking. A good way to do this is to do some slow walking and stretching at the beginning and end of your walk.

These are some additional ways to increase the number of steps you take throughout the day:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator
  • Walk around the entire grocery store or mall one time before you begin your shopping
  • Park you car farther away when you run errands or go out
  • Walk your pet every day; if you already exercise with your pet, walk an extra five or ten minutes
  • Walk to your co-worker's desk instead of calling
  • Walk during half of your lunch break
  • Walk to a neighbor’s house for a visit

Pedometers can be purchased at almost any athletic or department store, as well as on-line.  You can purchase a pedometer and find more information at any of these online sites:

Goal setting is important for success.  Set measurable goals that you can reach both short-term and long-term, such as walking a certain number of steps or amount of time per day, walking in a road race or sponsored walking event, or even becoming fit enough to take a day hike in rugged terrain. Setting goals will encourage you to make progress with your walking program and to “stick with it”.  Keeping a walking log can be helpful too. Write down the number of steps you take each day, your walking goals, and strategies that you want to try to increase the number of steps you take. Or, visit these interactive web sites that have goal setting and tracking features as well as other helpful information about walking for health and fitness:

America On the Move
America’s Walking
American Diabetes Association

Note: Always check with your physician before starting a new exercise program.