Physical Activity vs. Exercise

I meet a lot of people that believe they do enough throughout the week when it comes to physical fitness and their body. Examples from gardening, to walking instead of transport, lifting boxes and pushing stock cages, labouring and moving furniture to name a few. However, is this more physical activity? Or more exercise? There is a difference and it is not feasible to use one of these over the other in terms of “doing enough” throughout the week for one’s health.


Physical activity is any bodily movement as caused by skeletal muscle which results in energy expenditure. Physical activity can involve daily routines, sport, occupation and even household duties. These duties are each typically performed in the most efficient manner possible. As these are performed every day, they are done with little energy expenditure as possible ie. energy conservation as the goal (Caspersen, Powell, & Christenson, 1985).


How exercise differs to physical activity is that it is planned or structured and repetitive to achieve or improve short or long-term improvement or maintenance in one’s physical fitness. Health- or skill-related attributes make up physical fitness (Caspersen, Powell, & Christenson, 1985). As opposed to physical activity, energy expenditure can be required at high levels (relative to an individual) for performance. 

To sustain life we will all perform physical activity, but to improve life we will not all exercise. Simple things like fatigue, muscular strength and shortness of breath when walking the stairs are each improved through structured exercise. I strongly advise that exercise is necessary to continue to partake in physical activity for the remainder and quality of one’s life.   

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