Physical Activity

Is “sitting” the “new smoking”? As far as the harmful effects that an inactive lifestyle carries; this question is definitely worth thinking about. The healthcare providers at Student Health Services would write many prescriptions for regular movement if that would motivate people to discover the benefits!

Physical activity (anything that gets your body moving) is essential for your heart, strengthens your muscles and bones, lifts depression, and lowers stress. Perhaps the increased self-confidence and self-esteem that results from a commitment to some type of regular physical activity may be your rewarding motivation.

The Centers for Disease Control and the American College of Sports Medicine suggest 30 or more minutes of moderate physical activity on all or most days of the week. These minutes can be broken into short 5 -10 minute increments throughout the day. The activity can be as simple as walking briskly to classes. It is important to just get moving.

Tips to add movement into your life

  • Choose activities you enjoy and have fun!  Dance, walk through the zoo, or learn a new sport. Read, listen to music, podcasts, audio books, or watch TV while doing an activity.
  • Make physical activity a priority. Plan a time for movement or add it to your daily schedule.
  • Set realistic goals. Do not try to do too much too soon.
  • Do not get discouraged! It can take weeks or months to notice some of the improvements.
  • Vary your routine. Keep your body guessing and avoid the risk of boredom, burnout or injury.
  • Choose a comfortable time of day. Do not work out too soon after eating and be sensible about outdoor activities if it is extremely hot or cold outside.
  • Do not be focused on the scale—focus on the immediate benefits of increased energy, less stress, and more self-confidence.
  • Surround yourself with support. Doing activities with someone else can make it more fun and more difficult to back out of when motivation lags. Check out intramural and club sports like soccer, football, or ultimate Frisbee.
  • It is possible to get too much exercise. Pay attention to your body—it will let you know when you are pushing too hard. Excessive exercise is a component of some eating disorders; so watch for red flags.
  • Reward yourself when you achieve your goals! Do something you like – go to a movie, buy new clothes, try a new hair style, read a book, or just relax.

Types of Physical Activity

A variety of exercises are essential to your body’s optimum health. These include: cardiovascular (or aerobic), strength or resistance training, and stretching or flexibility.

Cardiovascular or aerobic activity causes your heart to work harder to get more oxygen to your muscles.  Any activity that lasts longer than 3 minutes is considered aerobic. Typical examples include biking, jogging, brisk walking, basketball, or swimming.  Aerobic activity decreases your resting heart rate, which puts less stress on your heart; increases the levels of HDL (good cholesterol in your blood), and burns calories.

Strength or resistance training promotes healthy bones and builds strength and muscles. It is essential for increasing your resting metabolism because resting muscles burn more calories than fat does. Aim for 2-3 sessions of resistance training a week, with at least 36 hours rest in between to allow the muscles to repair.

Flexibility or stretching are important because they improve balance, posture, flexibility, and prevent injury. Do them frequently, either alone or as warm-ups and cool-downs. Yoga and Pilates are examples of this type of physical activity. They have the added benefit of being meditative and stress-reducing.

Soreness is normal after you first start being active or when you try a new exercise, but pain is not desirable. Stop if you hurt. Aim for a “target heart rate” most of the time and vary the intensity of your effort (also known as “interval training”) to most efficiently raise your metabolism.

Additional Resources

Mason Recreation

Centers for Disease Control

National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability