The television, radio, magazines and newspapers are full of talk about fitness, physical activity, and exercise. But sometimes it gets confusing. What is the difference between “exercise” and “physical activity?” What does it mean to be “fit?”
While many people use the terms physical activity, fitness, and exercise interchangeably, they really are quite different. While you may not be jogging or lifting weights on a regular basis, there are many activities you do on a daily basis in your childcare center that can help keep you fit and healthy.
Physical activity is used to describe all the movements you go through during the day, including chores, gardening, housekeeping, walking the dog, and taking care of children. This also is referred to as activities of daily living.
There are different recommendations for how much and what kind of daily activity we need, depending on what we wish to achieve. Many agencies such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. Surgeon General suggest engaging in at least 30 minutes of activity of moderate intensity most days of the week.
Thirty Minutes Daily
“Moderate intensity” can be measured by your perception of exertion. This amount of activity can be done in one 30-minute period, or accumulated throughout the course of the day such as three 10-minute walks although there is more benefit for the heart and lungs when it is done at one time.
You might have heard about a recent recommendation from the Institute of Medicine for 60 minutes of daily physical activity. This recommendation focuses on reducing the risk of weight gain, promoting weight loss, and improving fitness of the hearts and lungs. The goal of 60 minutes a day includes 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity 30 minutes of activities of daily living.
Sounds like too much to add to your already busy schedule? You may be halfway there! For example, you might reach the goal of moderate-intensity activity through 10 minutes each of walking, dancing with the children in your childcare center, and playing catch. The remaining 30 minutes of “daily living” activities could be achieved by brief periods of vacuuming, gardening, sweeping the floors, unloading groceries, or many other activities.
If you have been fairly inactive, start by slowly increasing your activity to reach the 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each day. Begin by taking a brisk walk for five minutes every day for one week. Add an additional five minutes the next week, etc. In this way, you can easily increase your activity without hurting yourself or being overwhelmed. As you build up stamina and fitness, keep increasing your times until you reach the 30-minute goal for moderate-intensity activity.
Benefits of Exercise
There are many reasons to be physically active. Being active improves both mental and physical health. It is a must if you want to lose weight or it has has been recommended to you by your doctor. Being active can reduce the need for medications to treat hypertension, diabetes, heart diseases, arthritis, and other common health problems. Physically-active adults often sleep better and have higher self-confidence. Physically active adults also provide positive role models for young children.
In addition to simply being active, concentrate on being fit. Fitness describes how agile, flexible, strong, stable, and healthy an individual is. Fitness is determined by measuring vital signs like blood pressure and levels of blood cholesterol and sugar, and also by stamina.
Activities that increase fitness include those that build strength, such as weight lifting or stretching, and increase lung and heart capacity, such as jogging or aerobics. The daily activities described above can help you get fit, but the best way to increase your fitness level is with a regular exercise routine. Exercise means following a specific routine while being active, such as swimming, bicycling, or walking on a treadmill, to achieve a particular fitness goal. Investigate the options for regular exercise in your neighborhood, such as parks, YMCAs, and community groups. You can even exercise for a good cause by participating in “walk-a-thons” or “bike-a-thons.”
Working with children all day gives you a distinct advantage over many jobs: you have built-in opportunities to be active throughout the day. Many opportunities that you cannot avoid–running after three-year-olds, picking up toddlers and infants, and cleaning up your center–help keep you active.
You can do even more to improve your fitness and health by joining the children in their play. Create times when you and the children play, dance, romp, and simply enjoy moving. Increase your intensity as you join the children. This will be good for you and for the children!
Remember, three 10-minute bouts of activity count! Add times when you can build your fitness skills and finally, and move instead of standing still or sitting down. If you have weight loss goals or have been advised by your doctor that you should become more active, consider developing a formal exercise routine. Have fun! Be healthy and be active.