Chapter 2: Physical Activity

When you are physically active, you're doing your overall well-being a huge favour. You’re helping to reduce the risk and impact of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cancer, and you’re helping to strengthen your bones and muscles.1

Getting moving also helps with mental health by reducing stress and anxiety and improving sleep. In fact, some immediate benefits of physical activity can include elevated mood and energy, and improved self-esteem.1

Discovering activities you enjoy or can do with family or friends can keep you motivated to stay active. Rather than just doing an activity because you feel you should, it’s a lot easier to sustain it when it brings you joy," says Dr. Steve Pomedli of Cleveland Clinic Canada, Manulife Medical Director.

Types of physical activity

There are 3 main types of physical activity:

  • Aerobic activity: any kind of exercise that increases your heart rate and the amount of oxygen your body uses, such as walking, cycling, swimming, running or wheelchair sprinting, and playing sports or adapted sports.
  • Strength training: activities that build up your muscles, such as lifting weights or adapted weight training, resistance band exercises, and bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats.
  • Flexibility exercises: activities such as stretching and yoga, or any movement focused on stretching your muscles and improving your range of motion.

Big question: how much exercise do you need every week?

Most physical activity experts, including the World Health Organization and Cleveland Clinic Canada, recommend adults between the ages of 18 and 64 get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.

You can find the cadence that is right for you to meet these recommendations—for example, you can do a moderate-intensity activity for 30 minutes, 5 days a week, or a vigorous-intensity activity for 20 minutes, 4 times a week.

To make sure you’re reaching the right intensity with your activities, use a simple talk test. For a moderate-intensity activity you can talk but not sing during the workout. For a vigorous-intensity activity, you will only be able to say a few words before pausing to breathe.2

In addition to aerobic activity, it’s recommended that adults do muscle-strengthening activities two or more days each week. Finally, stretching is something you can do for even a few minutes every day to help improve flexibility, balance, and posture. 

Creating a physical activity routine you can stick to 

Step 1: Find your “why”

Identifying your prime motivation for being physically active is key. This will be the reason that helps get you moving even on the days you’re just not feeling it. Whether your goal is to elevate your mood, improve your sleep, or be able to keep up with your grandkids—find your “why.”

Step 2: Choose an activity you enjoy

This will make your routine more fun and enjoyable. For example, if running or cycling isn’t your thing, join a dance class, or sign up to play a team sport. 

Step 3: Make it social—have an accountability partner

Setting a physical activity schedule with a friend or a family member can not only make physical activity more enjoyable but it can also help keep you accountable.

Step 4: Set SMART goals

Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals for your exercise routine. For example, if you choose walking as your activity, your goal could be to walk for 30 minutes, 5 days a week, for the next 4 weeks.

Step 5:

Combine flexibility and structure

Using "if-then" planning can help you stay consistent while fitting physical activity into your life. For example, you can say, "If it's a weekday morning, then I will exercise for 30 minutes before work." But then you also create a back-up plan by saying, “If I can’t exercise in the morning, then I will exercise for 30 minutes after work.”

Finding time for physical activity

One common barrier to physical activity is lack of time. It can be tough to fit movement into a busy schedule, but there are ways to make it work.

"Make daily movement a priority for yourself," advises Maarika Arget, a Workplace Well-being Consultant with Manulife. “Self-care is not selfish.”

“Do what you can each day, even if it's a few minutes. Even short bursts of exercise, such as walking, stretching, or using the stairs, have advantages. Start where you're at and gradually build up. Stretching, using your muscles, and getting your heart pumping each day can all leave you feeling energized."

Getting support

These experts can assist you in safely increasing your physical activity in a healthy way:

  • Physiotherapist - A physiotherapist can help you optimize your mobility and function and prevent injury. They also focus on recovery from physical injuries using exercises, manual therapy, and other techniques that manage pain, improve movement, and promote overall health and well-being.
  • Kinesiologist – A kinesiologist can help you create an exercise program with an emphasis on movements for rehabilitation and muscle imbalances.
  • Athletic therapist – An athletic therapist can help with preventative care, assessment, management, and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal pain and injuries.
  • Osteopath– Osteopaths can help people participate in physical activity safely and with greater ease. Using non-invasive manual therapies, they can help reduce pain and stiffness and improve range of motion.

Check if your employee benefits cover these types of paramedical services.

Be active, be safe

Here are some tips from Cleveland Clinic Canada on how to make sure you stay safe as you get active.

Seek medical advice: If you have any health concerns or are new to exercise, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting a new physical activity.

Start slowly: Don't jump into a new physical activity too quickly. It's important to listen to your body, start slowly and gradually increase the intensity of your workouts over time.

Warmup and cool down: Before and after each workout, consider a warmup and cool down. This may help prevent injury and reduce muscle soreness.

Use proper form: If you're new to a physical activity, ask an exercise specialist (such as a personal trainer or kinesiologist) for advice. If you have difficulty moving or are dealing with past or present injuries, it can be helpful to consult a physiotherapist—they can assist you in developing an appropriate exercise plan.

Avoid overexertion: Don't push yourself too hard during your workouts. Listen to your body and take breaks when you need to.