Physical activity. Exercise. Fitness. Recognizing the relationship these words have with each other, with each of us and with our overall health, can be the beginning of a formula to find an exercise program that’s fun, effective and sustainable as part of a healthier lifestyle.
Often used interchangeably with “exercise,” physical activity refers to any type of movement. Chantis Mantilla, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and manager of Baptist Health South Florida’s Community Health, says brushing your teeth, opening doors and cooking dinner can each be considered physical activity.
Dr. Mantilla says that when physical activity becomes structured, has a goal, a type and an intensity level associated with it, your physical activity has transformed into exercise. Exercise works the body in a deliberate manner and promotes good health and an improved level of fitness.
“Fitness is the sum or product of our physical activity and exercise,” Dr. Mantilla said. “If you fall short on exercise, even if you consider your physical activity level is high, your fitness – and overall health – suffers.”
She recommends participating in exercise that accomplishes your fitness goals, with careful attention to your physical abilities, your lifestyle and your preferences. “You’re not going to keep doing something that you don’t enjoy doing,” she said. “Find something you can do, that you enjoy and can stick with, and that gets you to your goals.”
1. Determine your fitness goals.
Dr. Mantilla suggests first determining your goal for exercise. Here are the most common reasons people begin an exercise regimen:
- Weight loss
- Improved muscle tone
- Longer endurance
- Better performance
- More flexibility
- Enhanced balance
- Mental health
2. Choose the exercise type that meets your goals and that you enjoy.
Once you know what you want to accomplish with your exercise regimen, you can choose the type of exercise you should do. Dr. Mantilla says people who don’t enjoy running should opt for another type of aerobic exercise, if their goal is to burn calories and control their weight. Here are the main types of exercise to consider, according to the National Institute on Aging :
- Aerobic/Cardio – elevates your heart and breathing rate, burns calories and builds endurance. Examples include bicycling, running, jogging, swimming, spinning and dancing.
- Strength Training – strengthens muscle, improves physique and increases metabolism. Weightlifting, resistance training and core-focused exercises, such as Pilates, are examples.
- Flexibility – stretches muscles and joints to increase range of motion and prevent injuries. Yoga is an example of a type of exercise routine that improves flexibility.
- Balance – enhances the ability to remain stable and prevent injuries resulting from falls. Tai-chi and yoga exercises improve balance.
3. Budget an acceptable amount of time to devote to exercise.
The U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC)  and the American Heart Association  recommend that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening activities on two days each week. For optimal health, the CDC suggests 300 minutes, or five hours, a week of moderate aerobic exercise.
Dr. Mantilla says that fitting this amount of aerobic or cardiovascular exercise into a daily routine can be accomplished 10 minutes at a time, as long as you reach 30 minutes a day for five days a week minimum. Similarly, strength training can be accomplished in shorter spurts of time and at the same time as cardiovascular activities, such as walking with light weights.
4. Consider intensity when planning your workout routine.
To determine the intensity level that’s most effective for your health and preference, Dr. Mantilla suggests performing the “talk test.” During moderate-intensity exercise, she says you should be able to carry on a conversation, but not be able to sing. Conversely, struggling to complete sentences in one breath indicates the exercise has reached the threshold for “vigorous” exercise.
A study published recently in the British Journal of Sports Medicine  provides a more definitive measurement of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise. The study found that “brisk” walking is about 2.7 miles per hour, or 100 steps a minute, for adults under 60 years of age. And “vigorous” walking occurs at about 130 steps a minute, while 140 steps a minute signifies jogging.
Dr. Mantilla says the best way to begin an exercise routine and to then maintain a healthy level of physical activity is to find something that fits your lifestyle and that you enjoy. “By adding exercise to your daily physical activity, your fitness level will no doubt improve, as will your overall health,” she said. “Be sure to talk with your doctor before starting any exercise routine, but more than likely, your doctor will agree and encourage you to get moving.”
Baptist Health offers 115 weekly exercise classes including yoga, run clubs, mall walking and more. For more information, visit BaptistHealth.net/Wellness , and click on Community Exercise.