The Importance Of Exercise And Physical Activity

In light of recent, personal injuries and world-altering events, exercise has begun to take a backseat in my life. Similarly, my patients, friends, and family members have reevaluated their fitness goals. I have learned that it is imperative to reassess my perception of exercise and to create goals to keep me motivated. As a result, this blog aims to provide some perspective on the importance of exercise and some tools to track, set, and achieve successful fitness goals.

What is “physical activity,” “exercise,” and “physical fitness”

These three terms are sometimes used interchangeably. It is important to make a distinction between them to understand the differences between them and their impact on your health.

“Physical activity is defined as any body movement produced by muscle action that results in energy expenditure. Physical activity in daily life can be categorized into occupational, sports, conditioning, household, or other activities.”1

“Exercise is purposeful physical activity that is planned, structured, and repetitive and may be a final or an intermediate objective for the improvement or maintenance of physical fitness.”1

“Physical fitness is a set of attributes that are either health or skill-related.”1

Why should we exercise?

“Those who think they have no time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness” .- Edward Stanley (1826-1893)

Benefits of Physical Activity and Exercise

  • Physical inactivity contributes to 300,000 preventable deaths a year in the United States.
  • Moderate daily physical activity can substantially reduce the risk of developing or dying from cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.
  • Daily physical activity lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, retards osteoporosis, and reduces obesity, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and arthritis.”
  • Reduces death rate by ½ in individuals with hypertension who exercise regularly
  • Counters genetic tendencies toward early death with a lifestyle of regular exercise
  • Decreases mortality rate by 50% for physically active men whose parents live beyond age 65
  • Enhanced physical function and independent living in older persons
  • Enhanced feelings of well-being
  • Enhanced performance of work, recreational, and sport activities

Why do I choose to exercise?

Making time to exercise is not the easiest. Personally, I enjoy working through the activities that are challenging and I find value in overcoming those challenging aspects. I exercise because it is the best way to control my longevity and health outcomes, regardless of what the future may bring.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old.  We grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw

Where to Start

It may sound like an oversimplification, but the best way to start is by just moving more!

There are many paths to acquiring optimal physical fitness. A study by Journal of the American Medical Assn compared individuals that did vigorous exercise versus individuals who did 30 minutes a day of lifestyle exercise such as extra walking, raking leaves, or stair climbing; both groups had similar improvements in physical activity, cardiorespiratory fitness, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and body fat percentage.2 Making a conscious effort to move is a great stepping stone to larger fitness goals or overall health. The World Health Organization recommends 150 minutes a week of physical activity, that’s 30 minutes a day for 5 days.3,4

During your fitness journey, regardless of your age, resistance training should be included in your fitness regimen. Resistance training is a great modality to use. Below is an infographic that shows some of the benefits.

Tracking your Fitness

There are many metrics we can use to measure our health. Most people have a smartphone that tracks your steps or a smartwatch that may even calculate your heart rate.

Your heart rate is a great indicator for your exercise intensity and your overall fitness. Heart rate refers to the amount of times your heart beats per minute (bpm). At rest, an individual’s heart rate is normally between 60-100 bpm. With exercise an individual’s heart rate will increase. Heart rate recovery refers to the rate of decline in heart rate after cessation of an exercise.

Recovery of the heart rate immediately after exercise is a function of vagal reactivation.5 Cardiac vagal tone represents the contribution of the parasympathetic nervous system to cardiac regulation and a decreased vagal tone is a known predictor of coronary artery disease (CAD), death from CAD, and cardiovascular, non-cardiovascular, and death.6  It is very simple to calculate with or without the use of a device.

A study from the journal published by the American Medical Association reports a bpm recovery of less than 12 beats per minute was an independent indicator of lower functional capacity and independent prognostic factor for mortality.7 If your recovery rate is abnormal or presents with an increase in HR after one minute and each subsequent minute is an indicator, you may need to consult a physician to investigate.

What does this mean?

Having regular PCP visits are important for your health and your awareness of your overall health. This tool should be adjunct to your normal health checkups to provide insight of potential risks.

Tracking Your Intensity

Now that you know how to track your heart rate, you may also use it to track your exercise intensity. As previously discussed, as you exercise your heart rate will increase to measure your level of exercise intensity.

The Center of Disease Control and Prevention have provided a great reference tool to calculate your intensity provided below.

“For moderate-intensity physical activity, your target heart rate should be between 64% and 76% of your maximum heart rate. You can estimate your maximum heart rate based on your age. To estimate your maximum age-related heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For example, for a 50-year-old person, the estimated maximum age-related heart rate would be calculated as 220 – 50 years = 170 beats per minute (bpm). The 64% and 76% levels would be:

  • 64% level: 170 x 0.64 = 109 bpm, and
  • 76% level: 170 x 0.76 = 129 bpm

This shows that moderate-intensity physical activity for a 50-year-old person will require that the heart rate remains between 109 and 129 bpm during physical activity.

For vigorous-intensity physical activity, your target heart rate should be between 77% and 93% of your maximum heart rate. To figure out this range, follow the same formula used above, except change “64 and 76%” to “77 and 93%”.8

Here is a quick chart to reference to give you an idea of some ranges:

Monitoring your exercise intensity is a great way to track and set fitness goals. Your exercise intensity will dictate how much and how hard you will work out throughout a week.

Setting Goals:

As time progresses and my responsibilities increase, finding time and motivation to exercise becomes more challenging. For those who have set aside exercising or their fitness goals due to age, schedule, or life here are some tips in creating realistic goals:

  1.     Start NOW!
  2.     Be Specific when setting a goal! Starting with an action such as “I want to run,” then determining that you want to run 1 mile, and then reaching a very specific goal such as “I want to run 1 mile in under 10 minutes”. Specificity will keep you on track and provide a tool to stay accountable!
  3.     Make a Measurable Goal. What makes your goal a success? Are you aiming for an increased performance time or goal weight? Use phone applications or fitness trackers to track your progress and outcomes.
  4.     Choose an Attainable and Realistic goal. Be honest with yourself and choose a goal that makes sense for you and don’t compare yourself to others. Find a goal that will add value to your life.
  5.     Plan a Timeline and set a deadline.

These are commonly known as SMART goals! Start small and choose activities that you love doing such as dancing, spin classes, or socially-distanced sports. Accept that there will be ups and down in your journey and use this technique to direct your path. Remember, it is about the journey and not the destination!

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  1. Caspersen CJ, Powell KE, Christenson GM. Physical activity, exercise, and physical fitness: definitions and distinctions for health-related research. Public Health Rep. 1985;100(2):126-131.
  2. McArdle, Katch & Katch.  Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy, and Human Performance (8th Edition). 2015.  Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.  ISBN-13: 978-1-4511-9155-4
  3. 2020. Physical Activity Guidelines For Americans, 2Nd Edition. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 August 2020].
  4. ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing & Prescription (10th Edition). 2017. Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.  ISBN-13: 978-1-4963-3907-2
  5. van de Vegte, Y., van der Harst, P. and Verweij, N., 2018. Heart Rate Recovery 10 Seconds After Cessation of Exercise Predicts Death. Journal of the American Heart Association, 7(8).
  6. Laborde S, Mosley E, Thayer JF. Heart Rate Variability and Cardiac Vagal Tone in Psychophysiological Research – Recommendations for Experiment Planning, Data Analysis, and Data Reporting. Front Psychol. 2017;8:213. Published 2017 Feb 20. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00213
  7. Nishime, E., 2000. Heart Rate Recovery and Treadmill Exercise Score as Predictors of Mortality in Patients Referred for Exercise ECG. JAMA, 284(11), p.1392.
  8. 2020. Target Heart Rate And Estimated Maximum Heart Rate | Physical Activity | CDC. [online] Available at:,subtract%20your%20age%20from%20220 [Accessed 24 August 2020].
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