Physical activity and Health

Reading time: 3 min
Regular physical activity contributes to well-being, and helps prevent diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, coronary disease (heart attacks or angina pectoris), dementia and certain types of cancer.

Sport Medicine

Professionals and patients explain the importance of Sports Medicine
Physical activity is fundamental, both for preventing and for treating chronic illness.

Differentiating between physical activity, physical exercise and fitness is important:

  • Physical activity. Physical activity includes any body movement produced by the skeletal muscle system that results in energy expenditure above the basal metabolic rate (that is, the amount of energy used for the body’s basic functioning).
  • Physical exercise. Physical exercise is planned, structured and repetitive physical activity whose purpose is to improve or maintain one or more components of the body's physical condition. It is called sport when it is done within a regulatory and competitive framework.
  • Fitness. Fitness is the energy and vitality level that allows individuals to do regular daily tasks, enjoy active free time and deal with unexpected emergencies without tiring themselves. Fitness is said to have four components:
    • Cardiovascular resistance. The ability to resist fatigue and recover quickly after making physical effort. That effort includes aerobic activities (those that move large muscle groups and allow individuals to make long-lasting efforts, since there is no lack of oxygen) such as walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, climbing and descending stairs and working in the garden.
    • Strength. The ability of the muscle or muscle groups to generate intramuscular tension under specific conditions. Strength affects the neuromuscular system, prevents loss of muscle mass and maintains and prolongs elderly people's autonomy. For example, climbing stairs, gaining weight, doing specific exercises using only the body or using equipment in sports facilities such as health parks or gyms.
    • Flexibility. The ability to stretch, lengthen and bend without difficulty. It is beneficial for health because it prevents loss of joint mobility that leads to inactivity and improves postural hygiene. It is maintained through stretching or activities such as Tai chi or yoga.
    • Balance. The ability to hold a position against gravity, such as when one foot is off the ground. Helps maintain functionality in daily living activities and prevent falls. It can be developed with activities such as Tai chi or yoga.

Types of physical activity

Light activity. Light activity is activities that require minimal effort where the individual’s body does not undergo much physiological modifications when performing them. Some examples of light physical activity are:

Person doing housework in the living room

Low-intensity household chores.

Person walking slowly

Walking slowly.

Person climbing stairs slowly

Climbing stairs slowly.

Active woman, on the move

Taking a walk.

A person who stands up after sitting in a chair

Getting up from sitting down.

Moderate activity. When an individual does physical activity and their breathing and pulsations become quick, but that activity still allows them to continue a conversation. Some examples:

Person running

Walking at a brisk pace (1 kilometre every 10 minutes).

Adult and child playing a ball game

Actively playing with children.

Person riding a bicycle

Cycling at a leisurely pace.

Person working or doing chores in the orchard or garden

Working in the garden (sweeping leaves or mowing the lawn).

Person doing housework in the living room

Cleaning the home.

Vigorous activity. Physical activities that increases the individual’s heart rate substantially and when their breathing is too heavy and fast to have a conversation. Some examples:


Person walking up the stairs in a hurry

Climbing stairs.

Woman swimming


Skateboarder with skates and skateboards


Person playing football

Most competitive sports.

Person jumping rope

Jump rope.

Benefits of physical activity

There are many health benefits to doing physical exercise for everyone, both healthy people and people who have chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, etc. These include:

Person with good physical capacity and a battery that represents his energy

Strengthening the organism’s physical qualities and improving its functioning.

Woman growing older from childhood to old age

Increasing individuals’ life expectancy and quality of life.

Heart with tick

Preventing or improving certain diseases.

Good results on the blood pressure monitor

Regulating blood pressure.

Increased bone density

Increasing or maintaining bone density.

Insulin crossed out on a shield

Improving insulin resistance.


Decreasing or maintaining body weight.

Danger symbol with downward pointing arrow

Reducing the risk of certain types of cancer.

Person sleeping in bed

Improving sleep hygiene.

Two people with a good relationship

Fostering social relations and positive values.

A happy person with self-esteem and good mental health.

Improving mental health.

Person with good memory, learning ability and school performance.

Improving memory, learning skills and school performance.

Exercising increases life expectancy by an average of seven years.


Information referenced on the web pages of the Generalitat de Catalunya and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Substantiated information by:

David Domínguez
Eva Ferrer
Gil Rodas

Published: 14 April 2020
Updated: 14 April 2020


Receive the latest updates related to this content.

Thank you for subscribing!

If this is the first time you subscribe you will receive a confirmation email, check your inbox

An error occurred and we were unable to send your data, please try again later.