Do I need to exercise if I get plenty of physical activity?

This is a great question. I often hear it from family and friends seeking health improvements. Whether talking about losing weight or improving other health metrics. Such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.  A great way to improve our understanding of the answer is to get a better definition of exercise and physical activity.  

Exercise is a Subcategory of Physical Activity

Exercise is planned, structured and repetitive. Exercise is purposefully focused on improvement or maintenance of one or more components of physical fitness. Physical activity is any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that require energy expenditure.

This explanation is adequate to help us separate exercise as a derivative of physical activity. Although, it does require some unpacking. Mainly, to help us understand what type of exercise will best compliment our physical activity.  The definition states that exercise helps us improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness.  So what exactly are these components of physical fitness?  Let’s line them up and provide a short definition of these as fitness components. Additonally, we can examine a real world example to get a look at how an execise regine may be applied.  

10 Components of Fitness

  1. Cardio – The ability of the body’s systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen
  2. Stamina – The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy
  3. Strength – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force
  4. Flexibility – the ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint
  5. Power – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time
  6. Speed – The ability to minimize the cycle time of a repeated movement
  7. Coordination – The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement
  8. Agility – The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another
  9. Balance – The ability to control the placement of the body’s center of gravity in relation to its support base
  10. Accuracy – The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity

Now that we have a sense of these 10 physical fitness components we can examine a working example. This will help us understand who may benefit from an exercise routine as well as how. Specificically, choosing certain componenets to create balance of physical activity. Ideally, keeping us healthy, fit and free of chronic disease and overuse injuries.  

Real Life Example

Consider an individual with a labor intensive job.  Their work requires them to lift objects from the floor to hip height and sometimes overhead. Additionally, these objects weigh on average 50 pounds.  These bursts of physical activity range from 10 to 30 minutes. Three to six times through an 8 hour work day. Five to six days a week. In other words, this person’s job supplies plenty of strength movement.  With the distance the weight travels (ground to overhead), we can assume there is an adequate amount of power and speed to complete efforts in one motion.  Repeated several times throughout the day on a daily basis we can assume they have tremendous stamina to repeat the task.  

Sounds like this individual is covering many components of physical fitness.

So which components are lacking in his physical activity?

And what might be an effective exercise routine to provide more balance to their physical activity?

This person would have the greatest return to the quality of their life if they routinely practiced movements that challenge their cardio-respiratory endurance, flexibility, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy.  From my perspective as a fitness professional, technique practice with light weights on specific movements would reduce this person’s risk of injury at work. And even improve their movement efficiency. Thus, allowing them to do more work in less time with less strain on their body.  

What might an actual workout look like

General warm up on a cardio machine such as a bike, rower or even a walk at a brisk pace. Followed by flexibility training as a precursor to the strength exercises in their routine. This would serve to prep the body for those ranges of motion. Additionally, they would learn what stretches to do prior to starting a work shift. Reducing the risk of work place injury.  Constituting anywhere from 5-15:00 of their workout.

Knowing the nature of their work, we would predominately want them to keep their resistance exercise limited to 20-40 pounds. Repetitions under 50 total in a workout. Completly focus on moving well.  This recommendation will allow them to improve their technique. Avoiding overdoing something they spend a lot of time doing on the job.  Constituting 5-10:00 of their workout. 

Applicable Functional Exercises

Deadlifts: moving an object from floor to hip

Cleans: moving an object from floor to shoulder

Press, push press, push jerk: group of movements that move objects from shoulder to overhead.  

Snatch: moving an object from floor to overhead in one fluid movement.

Cardio-respiratory endurance training for this person would best counter their daily high volume movement. Which, cover large ranges of motion and constant loading of the joint.  Cycling would be ideal for this individual. It has no impact and is easy to recover from. This would allow them not to be distracted at work with sore muscles or joints.  Durations of the cycling work would vary from a few minutes up to 30 or 40 minutes. Variety is crucial here because no one wants stagnant cardio workouts. Grinding away for minutes on end. An enjoyable exercise program should include some onstop efforts. But also varied pacing as well as work rest interval efforts of different intensities. 

This is an in depth look at one individual’s potential workout plan, based on their lifestyle.  I’m sure you’re thinking that yours may vary. It will. You could benefit from more strength training or desperately lack flexibility.  My advice would be to bring those variables to an exercise professional. Consult with them on a plan that would best suit you.

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