Physical Activity

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Here you can find information about physical activity, sedentary behaviour, activity intensity, benefits of being active, tips for success, and links to numerous resources.

You can also learn about more physical activity topics - see the navigation menu on the left.

What is physical activity

Physical activity happens any time you use your muscles or move your body. There are two main types of physical activity:

  • Active living is a way of life where physical activity is valued and is integrated into daily life. It can be any type of physical activity. Examples including gardening, vacuuming, household chores, walking or cycling for transportation and shovelling snow.
  • Exercise is a form of physical activity that is planned and repetitive. Examples include aerobics classes, brisk walking, running on a treadmill or outside and playing a sport.

What is sedentary behaviour

Sedentary behaviour is any activity that requires very little movement and is often done sitting or lying down. These activities include watching television, playing video games, using a computer, and sitting in a motor vehicle.

It is important to be physically active to limit the amount of time you spend doing sedentary activities. What happens in your body when you are sedentary is different than when you are active. While physical activity decreases your risk for many chronic diseases, sedentary activities increase your risk. You need to move more and move often!

Health experts in Canada have developed guidelines for physical activity and sedentary behaviours. Click on the tabs on the left of this page to find out how much of each we should do.

Activity intensity

Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend being active at a moderate-to-vigorous intensity for a minimum amount of time each day or week. Please click on the tabs on the left of this page to find out how much physical activity different age groups should be aiming for.

If you are doing moderate-intensity activity, you can talk, but not sing your favourite song, during the activity. You are working hard enough to raise your heart rate.

If you are doing vigorous-intensity activity, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath. Your heart rate will have gone up quite a bit.

Moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA) is a combination of moderate and vigorous intensity activity. This is what you are aiming for to meet the physical activity guidelines.

Energetic play is similar to MVPA. It is a better description of how children move. It refers to activities that have young children working hard, breathing heavily and feeling warm.

Light-intensity physical activity does not help meet the physical activity guidelines. However, activities that do not have you working as hard are still important for active living and can help break up and reduce time spent sitting. Examples include standing up and stretching or walking for one to three minutes after sitting for a long time.

Benefits of being active

Regular exercise and reducing time spent sitting will improve your:

  • Energy level
  • Concentration, memory and alertness
  • Work-life balance
  • Fitness level
  • Feelings about yourself and self confidence

Regular exercise and reducing time spent sitting will also reduce your:

  • Stress level
  • Risk for injury at work
  • Time off from work or school due to illness
  • Risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some types of cancer

Tips for success

  • Set a goal and create a plan to reach that goal
  • Start off slowly and build up to your goal; small steps lead to successful goals
  • Be a good role model; children will learn from your example
  • Be active with family and friends
  • Keep a pair of comfortable shoes at work
  • Build movement into your daily routine
  • Use a calendar to record steps, time or distance
  • Stick to it! You need to try a new activity for about four to six weeks before the activity becomes a natural part of your routine and you start to see some benefits
  • Have fun! Choose a variety of activities you like to do

Links and resources