Is physical activity synonymous of health?: the abc of healthy physical activity

esqueletos runningWhat are the main principles of healthy physical activity?

If you ask people about the relationship between physical activity and health, probably most would assert that physical activity is healthy. Indeed, physical activity is healthy, but as long as at least, three principles are respected: individualization, progression and continuity.

The first and most important of these principles is individualization: «for each person there is a personal healthy level of physical activity «. What it means that the intensity of advisable physical activity for a person with a good physical condition and well-trained, could be too intense or even harmful for someone in worse shape or with a sedentary lifestyle. So the intensity of physical activity is the most important variable that we should brought under control and individualize, if we want that our physical activity was developed in a safe and healthy way.

Attention!: many cases of sudden death occur in sedentary people who start with very intense physical activity.


The second fundamental principle is the progression. This principle is especially important for beginners, which should start with «low dose» of physical activity and gradually increase it as you improve your fitness. The rapid increment of the dose of physical activity is not well tolerated by the health of people, especially the ones with the most sedentary lifestyle. Indeed, this may lead to early discontinuation of activity for perceiving it as too intense and unpleasant, and may even cause damage to the musculoskeletal system and more serious illnesses. Nobody should suffer during the exercise performance to improve the health.

Attention!: we must not confuse sporty performance and health condition. Clearly, in high performance athletes, health is secondary to their achievements.

Finally, the third principle we must remember is continuity. It is useless to practice sporadic and irregular physical exercise. Physical activity that we incorporate into our daily routine, must be healthy, fun and enjoyable. Thus, physical activity, as proper nutrition, should be forever…

Attention!: The practice of physical activity only when summer approaches provides few benefits to health and can also be risky, especially when the first two principles are not respected.


Which are the benefits of physical activity for health?

Multiple scientific studies published in the most prestigious journals in the world come to the conclusion that the systematic practice of physical exercise reduces the risk of many diseases. Specifically, it has been shown that healthy physical activity reduces the risk of the dreaded cardiovascular diseases such as myocardial infarction or stroke. The risk for these diseases, which are the leading cause of death in our environment, is reduced through physical activity through the following mechanisms: Fitness-Walking

  • Improving blood lipid profile: increasing HDL or «good» cholesterol and decreasing LDL or «bad» cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Improving glucose tolerance / insulin resistance, helping to prevent or treating diabetes mellitus.
  • Lowering blood pressure, preventing or improving hypertension.
  • Decreasing inflammatory processes in the arterial vessels (decreasing levels of C-reactive protein).
  • Thrombolysis effect.
  • Improving the vasoconstrictor / vasodilator function.

We also know that the systematic practice of healthy exercise reduces the risk of some of the most prevalent cancers (colon, prostate, breast), psychiatric disorders (stress, anxiety, depression), neurological and musculoskeletal diseases.

Attention!: the practice of physical activity reduces the risk of major diseases that cause death in developed countries. By contrast, sedentary lifestyle, increasingly common, is one of the main risk factors involved in these diseases.

What is the best exercise for our health?

Not all types of physical activity are also healthy. In this sense, there is a misconception that any sport or physical activity has the same health benefits. First, for the activity to be healthy, must respect the basic principles discussed above. And based on these principles, the scientific community has shown that not all types of physical activity have the same beneficial effects on health. Here, we have investigated the best recommendations for physical activity for health care in healthy adults aged between 18-65 years. These recommendations relevant to «the best physical activity for health in healthy population» can be summarized in the following seven points:


1) Performing aerobic physical activity of moderate intensity for 30 minutes 5 times a week, or performing vigorous aerobic physical activity intensity for 25 minutes 3 times a week. A good example of moderate-intensity aerobic activity is brisk walking. Brisk walking is to go to a rate that is hard to talk.

2) It is possible to combine moderate physical activity with vigorous aerobic activity, provided that the energy expenditure is appropriate. For example, we may combine three days of moderate aerobic exercise (30 minutes of brisk walking) with one day of intense aerobic exercise (25 minutes of running).

3) The best moderate aerobic physical activity for beginners is fast walking, because it ensures regular / constant energy expenditure and also reduces the risk of injury to the musculoskeletal system.

4) The 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity can be split into three periods of 10 minutes (3 x 10). This flexibility is important for people with problems of time, which may have difficulty finding 30 minutes for exercise.

5) In addition to aerobic exercise is necessary to keep active lifestyle. This means minimizing time sedentary activities. Examples might be: walk to work, school, supermarket… etc., instead of using public transport; climbing stairs instead of using the elevator; or going for a walk with the dog for longer or more often… etc.

6) Doing from 8 to 10 strength exercises that move major muscle groups two days a week (1 suite with 8-12 repetitions per exercise).

7) People in good physical condition (6 or more months practicing the recommended minimum -described above-), can increase the dose of exercise in order to increase health benefits. The dose should be increased through aerobic exercise (300 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week [60 minutes x 5 days], or 150 minutes of vigorous [50 minutes x 3 days]). The increase in strength exercises has no additional benefit to health.

Attention!: Science has shown that the minimum amount of physical activity recommended can reduce from 20 to 30% the risk of: cardiovascular diseases, some types of cancers and other psychiatric, neurological and / or musculoskeletal diseases. And if the minimum recommended dose of physical activity increases through aerobic exercise … the risk of cardiovascular disease can be reduced from 40 to 50%.

by Dr. J.F. Lisón

Vice Dean of Medicine




  1. A mucho deportista le encantará saber que a partir de una hora al día cinco días por semana no se mejora la salud.
    hay mucho deconocmiemiento en el entonor del deporte y salud. Tenemos mucho que aprender.

  2. Very interesting article about physical activity. I’ve shared it with a couple members of my family and friends so that they can also learn about the benefits of practicing sport. I myself, have taken this into account and have started going for 30 minute walks every morning and must say if does make me feel so much better.


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