Patients & Visitors

The Importance of Physical Activity to Your Health

Physical activity is a well-established cornerstone of good health, yet it’s often challenging to incorporate appropriate amounts of physical activity in your daily routine.

Here’s what you need to know to benefit from movement. First, let’s define physical inactivity and activity, and then we’ll explore the benefits of physical activity followed by simple recommendations to incorporate more of it in your daily routine.

Physical inactivity (sedentary behavior)

Sedentary behavior refers to reclining, seated, or lying activities requiring very low energy expenditure, like watching TV, playing video games, computer use, driving, and reading.

  • Is sitting bad for us?
    • No. As part of our evolution, it is a natural human inclination to preserve energy. Therefore, resting, or being physically inactive, is part of our biology.
  • Is being too sedentary bad for us?
    • Yes. While resting is required to adapt to physical activity, too much becomes unhealthy when not balanced with appropriate daily movement. With technological advancements, sedentarism has replaced a lifestyle that once required physical activity for survival.

Physical activity is associated with a multitude of positive health outcomes and too much inactivity results in poor metabolic and cardiovascular health. Therefore, we must balance inactivity with purposeful physical activity or exercise to maintain good health.

Physical activity (movement)

Physical activity is any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure, encompassing all activities at any intensity. It includes both exercise and incidental activity from our daily routine like walking to the local shop, cleaning, working, or active transport. This integrated activity may not be planned, structured, repetitive, or purposeful for improving fitness but is part of our daily activity and increases total daily energy expenditure, making it a factor in determining our energy requirement from food.
Physical activity occurs on a spectrum from light to moderate to vigorous activity. It’s important to recognize that all forms of physical activity are valuable contributors to our health.

So why is physical activity healthy?

There are immediate and long-term benefits to physical activity.

Immediate benefits:

  • Physical Function. Improved stability, muscular, and aerobic performance
  • Brain Health, Improved thinking or cognition and sharpened learning and judgment skills
  • Emotional Health. Reduced short-term feelings of anxiety and reduced depressive symptoms
  • Sleep. Improved sleep quality and reduced blood pressure
  • Immune Function. Moderate to vigorous activity triggers an anti-inflammatory response following a slight pro-inflammatory response

Long-term benefits:

  • Heart Health. Improves aerobic capacity and fitness and lowers risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes
  • Bone Strength. Improves bone density and strength
  • Muscle Strength. Increases mitochondrial density, muscle size, and strength
  • Balance and Coordination. Improves stability and reduces risk of falls or injury
  • Brain Health. Reduces risk of developing dementia and depression
  • Cancer Prevention. Lowers risk of bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung, and stomach cancers
  • Immune Function. Consistent physical activity reduces chronic inflammation

Clever ways to increase physical activity during winter

Although our cold and snowy Chicagoland winters may make exercise and physical activity seem daunting, there are many safe ways to get physically active during the winter:

  • Sledding with kids or grandkids
  • Walk around at the mall and run errands
  • Invest in a gym membership or fitness classes
  • Walk around at an indoor botanic garden
  • Snowshoeing or cross-country skiing
  • Indoor tennis or pickle ball
  • Indoor golf simulator
  • Go downtown and walk between stores
  • Walk the dog

Invest in your health with a good pair of walking/running shoes and a good pair of insulated, water-proof hiking shoes that will provide the comfort and safety to get more physically active – whether that’s to do your errands running in and out of stores or a walk through the park or forest preserve.

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