Physical activity, physical exercise and fitness

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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:

Persona haciendo tareas de casa

Low-intensity household chores.

Persona caminando de forma lenta

Walking slowly.

Persona subiendo escaleras despacio, lenta

Climbing stairs slowly.

Active woman, on the move

Taking a walk.

Persona se levanta después de estar sentado en una silla

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:

Persona que camina a buen ritmo

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

Adulto juega con niña a la pelota, al balón

Actively playing with children.

Persona yendo en bicicleta

Cycling at a leisurely pace.

Persona trabajando o haciendo tareas en el huerto o el jardín

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

Persona haciendo tareas de casa

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:

Persona corriendo. Correr


Persona subiendo escaleras deprisa, rápido

Climbing stairs.

Woman swimming


Persona patinando con patines, monopatín


Persona jugando a fútbol.

Most competitive sports.

Persona saltando a la comba.

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:

Persona con buena capacidad física

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.

Corazón con stick. Mejora o previene enfermedades

Preventing or improving certain diseases.

Datos buenos tensiómetro.

Regulating blood pressure.

Hueso. Aumenta la densidad ósea

Increasing or maintaining bone density.

Insulina tachada. Mejora resistencia insulina.

Improving insulin resistance.


Decreasing or maintaining body weight.

Símbolo peligro, riesgo y flecha hacia abajo. Reduce el riesgo

Reducing the risk of certain types of cancer.

Person sleeping in bed

Improving sleep hygiene.

Dos personas hablando. Favorece las relaciones sociales.

Fostering social relations and positive values.

Persona contenta, con autoestima. Buena salud mental.

Improving mental health.

Persona con buena memoria, capacidad de aprendizaje y rendimiento escolar.

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


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