Physical Activity

How Does My Physical Activity Affect My Risk?


To promote and maintain your health, it is recommended you incorporate periods of at least 10 minutes of activity three times a day, for a total of 30 minutes. Doing more than this will provide even greater health benefits. Physical activity doesn’t have to be exclusively a leisure pursuit. You can add it to all areas of your life: to chores, errands, your daily commute, and work.

If you have multiple chronic conditions, it is best that you try to be as physically active as your abilities and conditions allow.

What helps your body attain higher levels of fitness is a combination of three activities: aerobic exercise, weight training, and stretching (or flexibility training). Everyone should incorporate all three, even at minimal levels, into their weekly routines.

The following is a breakdown of the three basic exercise types:

Aerobic Activity

  • How often: Minimum of five days a week of moderate activity or three days a week of vigorous activity
  • How hard: Moderate to vigorous activity — with an appropriate progression
  • How long: At least 30 minutes a day for a total of at least 150 minutes a week (progressing to 300 minutes a week, if possible)
  • What exercise: Activities that are tolerable — walking, aquatic exercise, stationary cycling

Resistance Activity

  • How often: At least two days a week
  • How hard: Moderate to vigorous
  • What exercise: Strengthening activities — weight-bearing calisthenics, stair-climbing, progressive weight training — that hit the major muscle groups.

Flexibility Activity

  • How often: At least two days a week
  • How hard: Moderate
  • What exercise: Sustained rather than bouncing movements to increase and maintain flexibility

Specific Components of Cardiovascular Guidelines

Components of an Exercise Routine

FITT stands for “frequency,” “intensity,” “time,” and “type.” FITT outlines the basic structure of any exercise program. It helps provide parameters for tracking your workout and measuring your progress. When you lay down a fitness blueprint like this, you’re more likely to follow your routine. Here’s what FITT tells you:

  • Frequency: How often you exercise (number of days each week)
  • Intensity: How hard you exercise
  • Time: How long you exercise (minutes per exercise session)
  • Type: What exercise you do (walking, stretching, weight training)

Exercise Intensity

When beginning an exercise routine, it is important to start slowly, and then gradually increase the intensity over time. Striking the right balance of intensity is key. If your exercise program is too easy, you won’t get the desired benefit. If it’s too difficult, you’re likely to get frustrated and quit.

An exercise program that’s both safe and fun is one you’ll stick with. The following are normal physical responses to exercise and help indicate whether you are exercising at the appropriate intensity:

  • You are able to hold a conversation while exercising.
  • Your body temperature increases and you may start to sweat or get warm.
  • Your breathing rate increases.
  • You can sustain the exercise intensity for an extended period of time.

The two most common ways to assess whether you are exercising at the right intensity are the ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) scale and the talk test.

The RPE shown below uses a scale from 0 to 10, along with descriptive words, to help convey how you feel during various intensities of exercise. You can use this scale for rating your effort during any type of activity by picking the number that best describes how the exercise feels to you.

Borg Ratings of Perceived Exertion Scale
Rating Description How you feel and what you can expect
Nothing at all How you feel sitting or standing
2 Weak
Moderate How you feel when you walk or exercize
Very Strong How you feel when you really push yourself
10 Extremely Strong Unable to carry on

The talk test assesses exercise intensity by checking whether you’re able to talk throughout the activity. If you can’t, you’re likely working too hard. However, if you’re capable of singing, you’re probably not working hard enough. When you’re exercising at the right intensity, you should be able to hold an easy conversation.

The Three Exercise Types

  Description Examples
Aerobic Exercize

Aerobic exercise:

  • Is the most important of the three types for achieving heart health
  • Involves continuous movements of the large muscle groups (legs, shoulders, chest, and arms)
  • Increases the endurance of your heart, lungs, and muscles
  • Burns calories and is essential to increasing muscle mass
  • Increases the strength and function of your heart, which ultimately decreases its workload
  • Brisk walking
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Skating
  • Dancing
  • Climbing stairs
  • Rowing
Resistance Exercise

Resistance (weight) training:

  • Increases muscle mass (muscle provides support to your joints, which decreases your susceptibility to injury)
  • Increases muscle tissue and helps decrease body fat
  • Helps strengthen bones and improve posture
  • Helps keep your weight down
  • Improves body image and self-confidence
  • Works with aerobic activity to strengthen the heart and lungs
  • Improves your mobility
  • Weight machines
  • Calisthenics (body-weight exercises)
  • Handheld weights (also called free weights)
  • Resistance rubber bands

Flexibility (stretching):

  • Reduces muscle tension, improves circulation, decreases anxiety and stress, and lowers your risk for injury
  • Should focus on the large joints and muscle groups
  • Has no limits, but stretches should be held for at least 20 to 30 seconds and repeated two to three times
  • Flexibility is important for everyday living and physical activity.
  • It permits you to move a joint through its full range of motion
  • Flexibility decreases with age, resulting in muscle tightness and greater risk of injury
  • Stretch until you feel a slight to moderate discomfort but not to the point of pain.
  • Stretch primarily after exercise; the greatest improvements in flexibility occur after the muscles have warmed up.
  • Check your breathing: Inhale before the stretch, breath normally while holding the position, and then exhale during the release.

Structure of an Exercise Routine

  Description Purpose
  • Warming up involves mild aerobic activity and stretching to prepare the body for activity.
  • It mimics the intended activity but at a much lower intensity. For instance, if you are going for a fast-paced walk, start by doing a five- to 10-minute stroll.
  • Once you begin to get warm or start to sweat, you are ready for the conditioning phase.
  • A longer warm-up is necessary during the colder months.
  • Increases blood flow, stimulating the heart, lungs and muscles
  • Decrease the chance of irregular heartbeats
  • Increases muscles temperature for improved metabolic output
  • Protects against injury and muscle soreness
  • Lubricates joints and increases flexibility
Conditioning Phase

Do 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic and/or resistance training (at least 10 minute intervals), based on your specific exercise routine.

Decreases risk for chronic health conditions and improves overall health and well-being

  • The cooldown slowly decreasing your exercise intensity, allowing your body to safely return to a resting state.
  • It provides a gradual decline in intensity compared to the main conditioning phase of your routine.
  • The cooldown phase lasts five to 10 minutes, or until your breathing has returned to normal.
  • This is the best time to integrate a light stretching routine.
  • Prevents dizziness
  • Gradually slows down body functions, especially heart rate and blood pressure
  • Helps reduce the likelihood of exercise-related symptoms, including irregular heartbeat
  • Helps prevent unnecessary injury and muscle soreness


Adjusting your exercise routine as you go is essential to making sure you stick to it over the long haul. Doing too much too soon can cause injury or sufficient frustration that you give up.

It’s best to build up the frequency, intensity, and time of your exercise routine gradually. For example, when you first begin a strength-training program, you should start off by using resistance rubber bands or very light dumbbells.


  • Resistance training should be done every second day to prevent injury.
  • You should perform eight to 12 repetitions, increasing the weight when you are able to perform 12 to 15 repetitions of a given exercise at moderate intensity.
  • If you are unable to perform eight repetitions, decrease the weight by 2 lbs.
  • If you are able to complete 15 or more repetitions, increase the weight by 2 lbs.
  • After a few months of this kind of resistance and intensity, you will notice that your strength will start to stabilize.
  • Perform the exercises slowly; when you go too fast, you don’t get the full benefit or you can suffer injury.
  • Always consult a physician prior to beginning a resistance-training program — especially if you have neck, back, or eye problems.
Principle of Progression Age Repetitions Sets
Younger than 50 10 to 12 repetitions with the same weight At least one set of each exercise
Older than 50 10 to 15 repetitions with the same weight One set of each exercise

Exercise Precautions

Although exercise is extremely beneficial to your health, you have to be careful not to overdo. Listen to your body. If you experience any unusual effects, stop exercising and rest until they subside. If symptoms persist, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Note: If you have had health issues that limit your physical ability, make sure you follow your doctor’s exercise instructions. Seek help if you experience any of the following:

  • Pain, discomfort, tightness in the chest, neck, jaw, arms, or other areas
  • Shortness of breath at rest or with extremely mild activity
  • Dizziness, fainting, or weakness
  • Ankle swelling
  • Palpitations or abnormal heart rate (feeling that your heart is racing)
  • Pain or muscle cramping
  • Heart murmur
  • Unusual fatigue or shortness of breath with usual activities7