Current Document‎ > ‎

Benefits of Physical Activity

The Benefits of Physical Activity


What is Physical Activity?

The World Health Organization defines physical activity as: Any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. Sedentary behaviour (e.g. sitting) is an independent risk factor for chronic diseases. For example, moderate-intensity physical activity is defined in METs, .0 – 5.9 times the intensity of rest for adults and 4.0 – 6.9 times the intensity of rest for children and youth.    

What is Sedentary Behaviour?

Any waking behaviour characterized by an energy expenditure ≤ 1.5 METs while in a sitting or reclining posture. In contrast, we suggest that authors use the term “inactive” to describe those who are performing insufficient amounts of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) (i.e. not meeting specified physical activity guidelines).  

Individual Benefits of Physical Activity
Physical activity can benefit people of all ages. It leads to healthy growth and social development in children, and reduces risks of chronic disease and improves mental health in adults. For instance, it can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoporosis, help control weight and promote psychological well-being.  

Children and Youth:  
Physical activity is essential for healthy growth and development. Regular physical activity in childhood develops cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility and bone density. For example, 35 to 40 per cent of a person's total bone mass is formed in the first four years of adolescence.   Physical activity helps maintain a healthy body weight and also has beneficial effects on adiposity in overweight and obese youth, and on several components associated with mental health (self-concept, anxiety and depression). Physical activity helps reduce a number of risk factors for diseases such as coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes by setting positive habits early on in childhood and adolescence.  

Adults:  
Physical activity reduces the risk of over 25 chronic conditions, in particular coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, breast cancer, colon cancer, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. Regular physical activity and higher levels of fitness allow daily tasks to be accomplished with greater ease and comfort, and with less fatigue. Risk of depression is reduced by physical activity and functional decline with advancing age is also reduced. Research shows that as much as one half of the functional decline between the ages of 30 and 70 is due not to aging itself, but to an inactive way of life.

Older Adults:

Physical activity has life-long advantages. For older adults, additional benefits include functional independence, a higher level of cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, healthier body mass and composition; reduced risk of falls and fractures due to enhanced bone health; and protection from age-related diseases, including lower rates of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes colon cancer and breast cancer.

Aboriginal Canadians:

Aboriginal Canadians face many of the same cultural challenges. One of the most important reasons for Aboriginal people to be more active is the risk of diabetes and its complications: their rates of diabetes are three to five times higher than the general Canadian population. People of any culture who are physically active are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Activities in native cultures such as traditional dancing, drumming, hunting and fishing are all great ways to be physically active. Sports such as hockey, soccer,baseball and track and field are healthy for children and youth, whether played in rural, northern, remote or urban communities. 

Girls and Women:

Regular physical activity in adolescent girls can reduce the risk for obesity and osteoporosis. It can enhance mental health by offering adolescent girls positive feelings about body image, improved self-esteem, tangible experiences of competency and success, and increased self-confidence. It can also reduce the symptoms of stress and depression. The benefits of physical activity by older women include better health, improved fitness, better posture and balance, better self-esteem, weight control, stronger muscles and bones, feeling more energetic, relaxation and reduced stress, and continued independent living in later life.                                                

Newcomers to Canada:

Newcomers to Canada face a special set of barriers to an active lifestyle. Even though they may know that they should be physically active, people from other parts of the world sometimes find it difficult to become involved. This difficulty could be due to:

Customs; A lack of familiar activities; Not having social support or others with whom to be active; Not being able to afford some activities or transportation to the activity; Not having time because of competing priorities.

Newcomers may become isolated. Instead of being able to participate and feel part of their community, they may feel that they are on the outside looking in.

Physical activity that considers cultural context can be an important tool for both health and inclusion.  

People with Disabilities

While regular physical activity is important for all Canadians, it is particularly important for the 15% of Canadians with a disability. Overall health, improved quality of life, elevated self-esteem, prolonged independent living later in life and increased mobility are benefits that help a person with a disability cope with the everyday challenges of life.

Physical activity can also provide a valuable increase in energy required for a person to cope with the additional physical and mental stresses of living with a disability. In addition to the fact that people with a disability are often at a far greater risk for sedentary lifestyle illnesses and other health complications, these individuals are also susceptible to debilitating reductions in independence, isolation, low levels of social participation and low self-esteem. Physical activity participation not only enhances the physical and emotional health of people with a disability; it is also a powerful catalyst in promoting confidence, self-empowerment, social inclusion and healthier and more inclusive communities.




Societal Benefits of Physical Activity

For Health

Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of chronic disease mortality such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, contributing to over three million preventable deaths annually worldwide. Physical inactivity also contributes to the increasing level of childhood and adult obesity.

For Sustainable Development

Promoting active transportation can reduce harmful air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, which are also known to negatively impact health. Urban planning, design and redevelopment that aim to reduce dependence on motor vehicles can also contribute to increased physical activity, particularly in those developing countries experiencing rapid urbanization and growth. Increasing investment in active travel provides more equitable mobility options.

For the Economy

Physical inactivity contributes substantially to direct and indirect health care costs and has a significant impact on productivity and healthy life-years. Policies and actions that increase participation in physical activity are a powerful investment in creating liveable and socially connected communities that attract investment, business and tourism; in reducing the burden of spiraling health care costs by preventing chronic diseases and improving health and quality of life; as well as in increasing productivity in our workplaces and achievement in our places of learning.

Subpages (1): F/P/T Activity Targets