Daily Activity and Exercise: Why Both Are Essential for Good Health

Daily activity and consistent exercise have long been used as a type of preventive medicine, improving mood and well-being along with decreasing the risk of many chronic health conditions, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, dementia, depression, anxiety, certain types of cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis, among many others. Staying active along with consistent exercise are the bedrocks of both prevention and natural holistic treatments for most medical conditions. Though they are often lumped together in the same category, they are not the same. They both have independent yet synergistic benefits that help maintain good health.

happy mother and son enjoying outdoor sports activities

The Difference Between Daily Activity and Exercise

Daily activity can be thought of as moving as much of your body as possible throughout your normal daily routine, at home or at work, and avoiding sitting or being static for long periods of time. Variety and motion are key because they encourage upper and lower body movement while breaking up long sedentary periods with an activity such as walking, standing, climbing stairs, gardening, or something else that requires you to use your whole body in motion while at home or at work. Increasing your daily activity has powerful health benefits like increased cardiovascular health, stronger bones, increased mental alertness and clarity, improved sleep, and a decreased risk of depression, to name a few.

Exercise, on the other hand, is a planned type of structured movement with repetitive movements and motions that target specific muscles or organ systems. It is designed to push your physiology and heart rate to a higher level beyond normal daily activities and it is accomplished in a specific shorter time period. The health benefits of exercise are well known, and consistent exercise has a positive impact on almost all disease prevention and positive health outcomes. Exercise is usually grouped into four categories: Endurance (e.g., running and swimming), Resistance and Strength (e.g., weightlifting), Flexibility (e.g., stretching and yoga), and Balance and Stability (e.g., Tai Chi, Pilates, yoga ).

Daily Activity Versus Exercise: Which Is More Important?

Both daily activity and weekly exercise are independently important for short- and long-term health. Some people exercise daily but are not consistently active throughout the day because they sit for long hours at work. Conversely, there are people who are consistently active throughout the day but do not perform dedicated exercise. Both examples are not ideal. Combining both daily movement and activity with consistent weekly exercise is the most ideal approach.

Wiseman Health Take-Home Advice

The most important takeaway is to understand that being active daily and exercising are not the same. Both are independent but equally important approaches to good health. Here are some helpful tips for balancing and optimizing these two approaches:

  • Avoid being overly sedentary. Sitting too long negatively impacts your health. If you sit for long periods of time, stand up every 15–20 minutes to stretch or move. If you have a job where you are sitting most of the day, invest in a standing desk. This will help you mix up sitting and standing throughout your day. Read our Wiseman Health article The Harmful Effects of Sitting: From Head to Toe.  
  • If you have a job where you stay in a certain physical area, take “walk breaks” every 1–2 hours to get your body moving. Walking stairs is another way to break up the daily monotony at home or at work.
  • If you’re doing a task at home or at work where you’re able to multitask with an activity, then implement this strategy. For example, if you have a long phone call, use this time to walk around your neighborhood or office building while talking.
  • Always look for daily opportunities to increase body movement: take the stairs versus the elevator, park farther away from your destination to cover more distance, take your dog for a walk, walk or ride your bike versus driving, sit on the ground with legs crossed instead of using a chair, hold your child versus using a stroller, etc. There are countless, creative ways that we can change our daily routine to become more active and to make better use of our bodies.
  • Aim for 5,000 to 15,000 steps a day. 5,000 steps is the baseline for minimal daily activity and 15,000 steps is indicative of a very active person. The recommended sweet spot by most organizations for moderate daily activity is around 10,000 steps. Use an Apple Watch, Google Fit,  Fitbit, or any other electronic device to track your daily fitness activity. Keep in mind, this technology is helpful to initially understand what your daily number of steps feels like, but eventually these devices are less important and you will understand intuitively how active you are. Data is helpful, but using data to eventually focus intuitively on the process is the goal with most health and wellness technology.
  • Improve and increase your weekly exercise routine. Try to exercise 3–5 times weekly.
  • Studies show that the ideal exercise intensity level is moderate intensity. As with most sustainable approaches in the natural health world, the middle ground is the answer and the most optimal exercise intensity level is somewhere between the extremes of minimal and maximum intensity — the Goldilocks Zone or sweet spot.
  • Exercise variety is important. Incorporate all four major types of exercise (listed above) throughout the week or month. Focus on exercises that incorporate many of these categories at the same time. For instance, yoga improves balance and stability, flexibility, and strength all at the same time.
  • Focus on exercises that are easy for you to implement and the ones that are most enjoyable to do. For positive health changes to be sustainable, it’s best if they are convenient, inexpensive, and fun. Many exercises can be done efficiently and at no cost in your home or neighborhood.
  • And lastly, when it comes to being active or exercising, everything is “better outside, in nature.”

Editor’s Note: This content was created by our Wiseman Health content and writing team, without the influence of artificial intelligence engines. Our goal is to be your trusted source for natural health and medical information.