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Tips for increasing physical activity beyond exercise

Note: This post is written by the team of The ONE Group (Oncology – Nutrition – Exercise) at Penn State College of Medicine as part of a first-person blog about their work. Learn more about the group here.

Hi! I’m Dr. Brett Gordon. My work focuses on the effects of physical activity on mental health. Today’s message discusses the idea of increasing physical activity beyond exercising.

Physical activity and exercise are terms that are often mixed and matched, but they describe different things.

Physical activity is bodily movement, using your muscles, that results in energy expenditure or burning calories. Any time you move your body, that’s physical activity. Exercise is a subset of physical activity that is planned, structured and repetitive and has a goal to improve physical fitness. Planning to walk for 20 minutes, that’s exercise. Often, when people are told they need to be more physically active, they confuse that with a message that they need to go to a gym, or they need to do some formal type of exercise that may be confusing or difficult. While exercising is a fantastic, planned form of physical activity, increasing physical activity without exercise is a totally acceptable strategy to improve your health. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to increase physical activity throughout your day and week without actually having any planned exercise sessions.

First, let’s think of a few ways you can be more physically active around your home. One of the best forms of physical activity is brisk walking, so if you can, walk more around your home and neighborhood. If you can, walk places instead of driving. Take the dog for longer walks. Walk around your home while you are on the phone. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park farther away on purpose to walk further. Increasing walking increases physical activity, and there’s a lot of ways to increase walking. Other ways to increase physical activity around the home is to do chores such as cleaning, sweeping, vacuuming or outdoor chores. Depending on the task, these can be quite challenging and excellent forms of physical activity. Physical activity guidelines recommend getting at least 150 minutes of (moderate-to-vigorous intensity) physical activity per week. If you can do so easily, as part of your daily activities around your home, that’s wonderful.

Take some time and think of a few ways to be more physically active in your daily life, particularly if you are not a fan of planned exercises. Being more active and getting at least 150 minutes per week of (moderate-to-vigorous intensity) physical activity into your life will take some planning, but you are well on your way to finding opportunities to be more physically active.

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