Blog Fitness Physical Activity Vs. Exercise: What’s The Difference And Does It Matter?

Physical Activity Vs. Exercise: What’s The Difference And Does It Matter?


Many people new to the fitness industry believe physical activity and exercise refer to the same thing. But, of course, it does not help that even some people who have started their fitness journey hardly know their differences. The idea of distinguishing between the two may seem irrelevant for many people as the argument is that both do the job. Even so, you must understand the differences before you start your fitness journey, as the differences shape your fitness journey and road to success. So, in this piece, we will look at a detailed comparison of physical activity vs exercise. We will look at the differences, the similarities, and the health benefits of each activity. Take a look.


Exercise Vs. Physical Activity: The Difference

The main differences between these two concepts lie in their definition and how they are performed. In the fitness world, exercise is defined as a scheduled, structured and driven activity with a final or intermediate objective (2). For example, you may be exercising to lose weight, build muscle, or get fit.

On the flip side, physical activity is defined as a movement that engages your muscles and makes them contract to result in the calorie-burning process. It consists of a set of attributes that are either skill or health-related (2).

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When indulging in physical activity, you are undertaking random movements that do not necessarily have to be scheduled or goal-oriented. But, again, these movements do not have to be timed or structured.

However, when you start an exercise, the routine is planned and time-bound, meaning you perform it for a specific duration. Additionally, you perform structured routines that may target a few or all of your body muscles.

physical activity vs exercise

Examples Of Physical Activity Vs. Fitness Vs. Exercise

Now that you can easily distinguish between these two concepts let us introduce another concept: fitness. In general, fitness is the condition where you are physically fit and healthy. There is no shortcut to fitness, and the only way you can get to such a state is by performing an exercise routine or physical activity.

  • Examples Of Exercise

Exercise is divided into three broad categories: aerobic, anaerobic, and agility training (4). Aerobic exercises are an example of cardiovascular conditioning and include running, swimming, dancing, brisk walking, rowing, jogging, and cycling (4).

On the other hand, anaerobic exercises refer to activities that involve short and intense bursts of routines (4). These movements break down glucose in your body without using oxygen (4). They include weight lifting, sprinting, isometrics, interval training, and intensive rope skipping (4).

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Agility training is the last category of exercise. It aims at improving your control when speeding, slowing down, and changing direction (4). These movements are vital in helping, for example, a tennis player maintain control over their court positioning after every shot (4).

Most of the agility training exercises are centered on individuals who take part in sports that heavily rely on proper positioning, balance, speed, and coordination (4). These sports include tennis, basketball, volleyball, wrestling, martial arts, soccer, badminton, and boxing (4).

  • Examples Of Physical Activity

As mentioned earlier, physical activity is an unstructured movement conducted by your skeletal muscles that require energy. It could be any movement so long as your muscles are moving and you are using energy. Some examples include doing yard work, walking the dog, doing house chores, or mowing the lawn.

Read More: How To Start Getting Fit After 40: It’s Never Too Late To Reap The Benefits Of Physical Fitness

physical activity vs exercise

Similarities Of Physical Activity And Exercise

Several similarities come with performing either exercise or physical activity. First and foremost, anyone can experience the health benefits of these activities regardless of age, disabilities, size, shape or ethnicity.

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Secondly, these movements are generally safe for most people. All you ought to do is perform an activity that suits your fitness level. Lastly, both of these movements have almost the same health benefits. 

It means that performing either movement can help you reap similar health benefits. Some of the health benefits of exercise include (3):

  • Improved cardiovascular health. Exercise is linked to reduced blood pressure, improved cholesterol levels, and reduced risk of stroke, heart attacks, and heart disease.
  • Diabetes management due to improved blood glucose control reduced cardiovascular risk factors and better weight management.
  • Reduced risk of colon, kidney, uterine, breast, stomach, bladder, and esophageal cancers.
  • Better weight management. Exercising enhances metabolism and increases fat-burning.
  • Development of muscle mass and strength.
  • Better mental health and enhanced mood.
  • Improved bone health and reduced risk of bone-related conditions like osteoporosis.
  • Increased quality of life due to reduced risk of disease.
  • Improved sleep quality and efficiency.
  • Improved brain functioning and reduced risk of dementia.

training plan for half marathon

The benefits of physical activity include (1):

  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.
  • A better quality of life due to improved overall health and physical fitness.
  • Strengthened bones and muscles, which reduces the risk of falls, osteoporosis, and hip fractures.   
  • Weight management due to increased calorie burning.
  • Improved ability of performing daily activities due to muscle strengthening.
  • Increased chances of living longer due to reduced risk of dying early from leading causes of mortality like heart disease and cancer (1).
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You may reap some of the health benefits of exercise and physical activity right after your session, for example, enhanced mood and improved thinking. However, others may take time and require consistency, such as an enhanced quality of life.

Again, you do not have to do high amounts of exercise or physical activity to start reaping these benefits. Moderate physical activity and exercise are enough to start seeing some changes physically, mentally, and health-wise.

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physical activity vs exercise

Key Pointers

As seen from above, there is no winner in the comparison of physical activity vs exercise. Both rank as some of the best two activities to undertake for better health. However, to reap the most from the two, we suggest:

  • Choosing activities that you enjoy
  • Selecting activities that target all body muscles
  • Performing safe movements and in a safe manner to prevent injuries
  • Setting realistic goals, especially if you are following an exercise program
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The Bottom Line

Although most people are not aware, exercise and physical activity are two different concepts. Exercise is more structured, planned, and repetitive, whereas physical activity entails any movement that uses up energy. 

Nevertheless, the two activities result in numerous health benefits. Be sure to go through this comparison of physical activity vs exercise before starting your fitness journey for better insight on what activity to perform.



This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on for decision-making. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!


  1. Benefits of Physical Activity (2021,
  2. Physical activity, exercise, and physical fitness: definitions and distinctions for health-related research. (1985,
  3. What are the mental and physical health benefits of exercise? (2021,
  4. What to know about exercise and how to start (2019,
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