Types of Physical Activity

Types of Physical Activity

women on exercise bikesPeople of all ages can improve their health and well-being by becoming more physically active. Experts recommend that adults get 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on a regular basis. Moderate-intensity physical activity refers to a level of effort in which a person should experience some increase in breathing or heart rate.

While the best kind of activity is the one that you will do, there are several types of physical activity and it's probably a good idea to include some of each of the following in order to achieve overall fitness:

Aerobic or Cardiovascular Exercise

Aerobic activities improve the health of your heart and lungs, increase stamina and help decrease body fat and improve circulation. To help your heart, exercise should be constant and last long enough to increase the blood flow to the muscles.

Such activities might include walking, jogging, bicycling, climbing stairs, walking on a treadmill, dancing, swimming or jumping rope. These types of activities help to raise your heart rate and increase your breathing for an extended period of time. Aerobic exercise improves cardiovascular function and reduces blood pressure.

Since the goal of aerobic exercise is to get your heart rate up, it may be wise to check with your health care provider about how hard you should be exercising before embarking on a new aerobic exercise program.

Strength or Weight Training

Weight training is the only way to increase your metabolism so that you burn more calories after you’ve stopped exercising by increasing your muscle mass -- and this is the best strategy to prevent weight gain as you age.

Strength training, such as weight lifting, helps make bones stronger, improves balance and increases muscle strength. All of this helps prevent osteoporosis and lowers the risk of hip fractures from falls. Strength training has also been shown to lessen arthritis pain.

Strength training can be done on both the upper and lower body by using weight machines, lifting free weights or utilizing special elastic bands (available at sporting good stores). To prevent injury, talk to an expert who can help you learn to work properly with weights. In general, strength training can be done easily at home with a minimum of time. Activities like lifting weights, push-ups, or yoga build more muscle mass, which burns more calories. You can even use household items like canned food or milk jugs filled with water as "weights." And a small time investment pays off. Two 30-minute sessions a week of weight training is enough to increase muscle mass and bone density.

Stretching or Flexibility

Stretching helps to ease movement, improve flexibility and prevent muscle strain and injury. Stretching also helps to get your body warmed up and ready for exercise.


Balance activities help you maintain posture and balance to keep from falling. This is particularly important for the elderly who are at risk for bone fractures. However, many athletes use balance training to prevent injury and improve performance.

Exercise and Aging

Our bodies lose strength and flexibility with age, and existing health conditions may make routine activities difficult. However, scientific research has shown that exercise can slow the physiological aging clock. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and American Heart Association (AHA) recently published physical activity guidelines for healthy adults aged 50 to 65, as well as those over age 65 or with chronic conditions like arthritis.

Both sets of guidelines recommend alternating aerobic and cardio exercises with strength training, while balancing exercises are encouraged for those at risk of falling.

Tips for choosing the types of physical activity that are best for you:

  • Choose physical activities that are convenient and fun, and that you will want to do daily for life.
  • Avoid any physical activity that causes pain.
  • Take advantage of exercise classes like aerobics, ballroom dance, T'ai Chi or organized walks and hikes.
  • Consider your goals—do you want to increase strength, flexibility or cardiovascular health.

Whichever types of physical activity you choose:

  • Exercise at your own pace, increasing the intensity when you feel comfortable.
  • Vary your exercise routine to keep it interesting.
  • Be realistic about what you can do.

Other Resources

1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. ChooseMyPlate.gov Website. Washington, DC. Physical Activity. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/physical-activity/why.htmlAccessed March 29, 2015. 

2. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Health.gov Website. Washington, DC. Physical Activity Guidelines. http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/chapter2.aspx Accessed March 29, 2015. 

3. American College of Sports Medicine Website. General Physical Activity. http://www.acsm.org/access-public-information/ Accessed March 29, 2015.