Exercise and Fitness: An Important Component of Wellness

The term "wellness" is defined as: "An active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a more successful existence."1  "A more successful existence"what a wonderful image that conjures up: health, wholeness, and physical well-being. Exercise and fitness are some of the key ingredients to achieving this vibrant state.  

Often, wellness means making a change in daily life, embracing this change, and then putting this change into action. Merely approaching the idea of a change can feel like a daunting task.

This Center for Health and Wellness page will help answer the following questions:

  1. What defines exercise and physical activity?
  2. What are the benefits of exercise and physical activity?
  3. What are the components of a successful physical fitness program?
  4. How much exercise do we need?

What is Exercise and Physical Fitness?

Exercise is "planned, structured and repetitive physical activity done to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness."2 Physical fitness is "a set of attributes that people have or achieve that relates to the ability to perform physical activity."3 According to the Centers for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, less than 50 percent of adults engage in the amount of exercise recommended for optimal health; 16 percent do not engage exercise at all; and almost half of 12 to 21 year olds are regularly inactive. What does it take to get more people interested in exercising?

Benefits of Exercise

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular physical activity is one of the most important things we can do for our health. 5 The benefits of exercise include:

  • Weight control
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Lower risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Lower risk of some cancers
  • Stronger bones and muscles
  • Improved mental health and mood
  • Improved mobility in daily activities and better prevention of falls
  • Increased longevity

What is a Successful Fitness Program?


The following three major components should be part of every exercise program:6

  1. Cardiorespiratory endurance/aerobic activity—"The ability of the body's circulatory and respiratory systems to supply fuel during sustained physical activity."
  2. Muscular strength and endurance—"The ability of the muscle to exert force during an activity, and the ability of the muscle to continue to perform without fatigue."
  3. Flexibility—"The range of motion around a joint."

Aerobic Activity

Aerobic activity is any physical action that gets you breathing harder and your heart beating faster, for example:

Moderate Physical Activity

  • Hiking
  • Gardening or yard work
  • Dancing
  • Golf (walking and carrying clubs)
  • Bicycling (less than 10 mph)
  • Walking (3.5 mph)

Vigorous Physical Activity

  • Running or jogging (5 mph)
  • Bicycling (greater than10 mph)
  • Swimming
  • Aerobics class
  • Walking (4.5 mph)
  • Basketball

Muscle Strength and Endurance

In order to gain muscle strength benefits, this exercise needs to be repeated to the point where it is difficult to perform one more repetition without help. A repetition is one complete movement of an activity, like lifting a weight. Between 8 to 12 repetitions is called a set.7

Examples of muscle strengthening activities include the following:

  • Lifting weights
  • Using resistance bands
  • Push ups or sit ups
  • Yoga

How Much Exercise Do We Need?

There have been recent breakthroughs in exercise science research that propose exercising for only 10 minutes at a time may be just as or more effective than exercising for 30 to 60 minutes continuously.8 This provides the opportunity to break up the total daily exercise requirement into manageable amounts.

Amount of Exercise Needed to Gain the Health Benefits of Exercise (for Adults)

  • 2-½ hours (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days per week, OR
  • 1-¼ hours (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days per week

Remember: More time equals greater health benefits:

  • More than 300 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity plus strength training OR
  • 150 minutes per week of vigorous intensity activity, plus strength training


1 National Wellness Institute (accessed February 2009).
2 Alton L.Thygerson and Karl L. Larson, Fit to Be Well  (Boston: Jones and Bartlett, 2006) xxi.
3 Ibid.
4 National Center for Health Statistics 2002 (accessed February 2009).
5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (accessed February 2009).
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (accessed February 2009).
9 Ibid.

Kaplan Higher Education Corporation is a division of Kaplan, Inc., a subsidiary of The Washington Post Company.

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