Its pretty much self explanatory…and easy to remember. Is it and over simplification for the sake of being ‘catchy’? No, being active is primary to health and fitness, its just basic evolution. We have evolved to be physically active in one form or another on a continual basis. As a result much of our health is dependent on movement to keep the various subsystems of our body working properly and in balance. Being regularly active isn’t good or bad it is simply how we are designed. You will feel good from regular movement because that is how the human body functions.
As spring comes on and summer rolls in we see people out and about. It’s easier to get from one place to the other and more enjoyable to be moving around outside. Its fun out here in Ontario, Canada to see all the soft pasty bodies getting flushed with increased blood flow and folks chatting and looking somewhat relieved as they move about. It isn’t necessarily just the fresh air and sunshine which makes us feel better it is just plain old movement.
It is somewhat disconcerting to consider how sedentary our culture has become. We have nothing against the huge cerebral influences of modern tech (hence we blog ;n) but the implications are serious. Recent research has even drawn a direct comparison between the effects of prolonged lack of movement and things like the side effects of smoking. Not moving is deadly as the years pile up – movement…regular activity is basically a fitness must but is it a ‘no brainer’?
While activity and exercise have a lot in common, with real fitness (not fluffy infomercial fitness) there must be a clear distinction. While exercise is an activity, activity isn’t necessarily exercise. They serve two distinct purposes in fitness and though the lines between them blur it is of paramount importance to understand the difference. Physical exercise by definition is to improve health and fitness. Physical activity is basically doing something rather than nothing. You need to be physically active because you are human. You need to exercise because you have weaknesses brought on by genetics, age and plain old life stress.
Many have heard the saying ‘you can’t out exercise a bad diet’ and it also applies to activity. No matter how much activity you get you cannot get ahead of poor nutrition. What is not as commonly known is you can’t do enough activity to make up for lack of exercise, let us explain:
Activity like running, swimming or any sporting type motion is great for us. The problem is it is repetitive stress. You may get better at the activity you do often but it will come at a cost. Furthermore, the less you are genetically designed for said activity the greater the cost over time. If it were exercise you would get overall health improvements AND fitness increases with no negative by product. Physical motion drains us and beats up our bodies. Again you can get better at a specific task but it is mostly skill adaptation. That is you get more coordinated and refine the specific physical motions with ever-greater efficiency. You are designed with a highly sophisticated nervous system and it has evolved to get good at things not just over come them with brute force. In fact we are relatively weak members of the animal kingdom.
All high level athletes know they need adjunct exercise to better their fitness and increase their sporting capacity. It is no different for the non-athlete. Exercise…real exercise (not trendy pop culture fads) is meant to deal with all your physical liabilities. A physical job, or regular running as examples, will over use certain joints and muscles. They will inflame the connective tissue and drain your energy reserves. Exercise properly applied will protect you against the effects of impact activity and pretty much every activity has impact.
What we are getting at is that activities tend to be highly specific in nature. Jog everyday for 2 months and see improvement. Now get on a bike and push yourself just as hard as your last run and you may be shocked how much it fatigues and drains you. Exercise will improve both activities where as straight activity has very little cross over. I know it is surprising but investigate for yourself and you will come to the same conclusion. A really good swimmer can feel way out of shape on the tennis court. You can jog regularly with ease then hike some hilly uneven terrain and feel totally winded. We aren’t of course suggesting you shouldn’t play sports or that one activity is better than another. We are saying activity at its core…isn’t exercise. It is only exercising the skill at getting better at that particular activity…clear as mud?
The important take home is how to best pick activities and how to best exercise. As we continually promote, you are a human but ultimately an individual. You need the four basic interconnect elements of fitness (nutrition, exercise, activity and rest) like everyone else for health but the type and measure of the combo will vary widely. With exercise and activity we are big proponents of variety.
Too much of a good thing is a common mistake for fitness newbies.
We suggest you try all sorts of activities and gauge the effects. It shouldn’t be hard to feel which ones are better suited for you than others. While distance runners benefit from being light and lanky a soccer player may want heavier bulkier legs. Basically in human physiology there is an endurance/strength competition. Fast forceful movement takes great strength but burns energy quickly. Lasting energy and conservation of movement is enduring but often lacks peak power.
One serious thing to keep in mind with regular activity is that walking may be the best source of movement bar none. Walking provides all the benefits of activity without (or very little) cost. Humans used to have to walk everywhere, it is fundamental. Unless you have to walk hundreds of miles each week daily strolls will only add to your fitness.
When it comes to exercise the situation is a bit more complex. Basically you should be looking to address your weaknesses. You need a strong, flexible structure to live in. You need bone density, strong but subtle connective tissue and most of all muscle. You need lean muscle to be both powerful and strong as well as agile and enduring.
With exercise the activity should be intense and short duration performed only a few times a week. You are looking to be physical in a way that taxes you enough to force and adaptation. By this we mean to stimulate a change in your physiology. Building stronger shoulders with greater range of motion through rotator movements and intense heavy resistance deltoid lifts is an example of exercise.
The key to exercise is this: carefully and safely push a part of your structure to its limit then let it rest, heal and hopefully adapt. If you exercise with enough intensity you will also stimulate your cardiopulmonary system. In fact you will stimulate pretty much all your structures sub-systems and encourage them to be robust.
Basically exercise is the source of activity in that it makes activity better and in the face of age, injury and general stress exercise helps you to be able to keep moving. Lack of fitness (capability to be healthy and physical) is influenced by genetic weakness, lack of good nutrition and poor rest. Exercise is meant to be organized and performed to protect you. It gives a reason for good nutrients to do their thing and helps you deal with pain and fatigue so you can rest and recover better.
Separating exercise and activity may seem unnecsesary until you have an issue. Then you are faced with finding work-arounds or becoming out of shape. Keeping the two things distinct will make it far easier to get to know your unique traits and how to best stay fit. Be active all the time and let it be enjoyable and stress relieving. Have exercise be serious and intense but infrequent. Read through your response to activity what your exercise needs will be and then address them specifically.
If you want more bounce in your step, if you want to jump higher look for exercises which directly strengthen the implied structures. If you want to have better posture and articulate your various body parts with greater agility look for related exercises.
Most of all…keep moving.
Be well and stick at fitness – do what you can, where you are, with what you’ve got.
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