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Movement: The Key to Health and Longevity

Physical activity can be any form of movement and can be done at any level of intensity

Life is motion. Movement is the cornerstone to a healthy life. We can slow down the clock of cellular aging through movement. A sedentary state is a leading cause of chronic diseases and mortality. One of the important steps to a health journey is taking a step. I like to think that movement allows the brain an outlet to imagine thoughts into action. Julian Dollente, RN, outlines the benefits of physical activity, including supporting the brain in reducing cognitive dysfunction and risk of depression. Let’s start moving! Christopher M. Cirino, DO. MPH.

Physical activity is a fundamental aspect of life, affecting everything from physical health to mental capabilities to personal relationships. Almost all activities we do every day involve some form of movement. And yet, more than 27% of adults and 80% of adolescents do not meet the recommended physical activity per day. 

Modern lifestyles and technological advancement may have something to do with people’s inactivity. Perhaps many of us do not appreciate the importance of moving our bodies on our overall well-being. We know that living a sedentary lifestyle causes several health issues, as discussed in the previous YHF articles. But do you know how beneficial it is to be more active?

This article will discuss the different types of physical activity and its many health benefits, including lower risks of chronic diseases, improved sex life, and increased life expectancy. 

What constitutes Movement?

Movement refers to any form of deliberate bodily movement that requires energy expenditure. It can be a structured exercise  — usually geared toward achieving physical fitness like sports, running, or a gym session. It can also be any simple movements you do while working, going to and from places, or enjoying your leisure time. 

Movement is more than just exercise and can be done at any level or skill and is for everybody’s enjoyment. It encompasses all movements performed during any time of day or night, including incidental activities integrated into the daily routine. 

Regular physical activity is essential in achieving or maintaining a healthy body, mental health, quality of life, and well-being. According to WHO, people with a sedentary lifestyle have a 20% to 30% higher risk of death than physically active people.

3 Types of Movement Activities

There are different types of physical activity, and each type brings its own unique health benefits. While there are endless examples of physical activities, they’re often categorized based on intensity and the kind of movement involved. Here are the three types of physical activity:

1. Aerobic

Aerobic activities include anything that makes you breathe harder and your heart rate higher. These activities or exercises are healthy for the heart and can help reduce the risk of developing many chronic conditions, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Aerobic activities are the type of movement that benefits everyone, regardless of age and physical abilities. Based on how much they increase your breathing and heart rate, they can be subdivided into three intensity levels: low, moderate, and vigorous.    

Low-intensity activities

Low-intensity activities are movements that keep your heart rate at a steady pace of about 40% of its maximum ability. If you can talk and sing without puffing, then you’re moving at a low level. While these activities require less muscle and joint action, they are still effective in improving cardiovascular health. Examples include:

  • Casual walking
  • Doing household chores, like washing dishes, vacuuming, and mopping
  • Light swimming
  • Light gardening
  • Washing the car

Moderate intensity activities

cycling is one example of moderate-intensity activities that adults and adolescents can enjoy

Moderate-intensity activities mean you are moving hard enough to get your heart pumping and break a sweat. They involve movements in which you can comfortably talk but not sing the words to your favorite song. Examples include: 

  • Brisk walking
  • Jogging
  • Cycling
  • Swimming or water aerobics
  • Dancing
  • Raking the yard

Vigorous intensity activities

You are in the vigorous-intensity range if you can’t say more than a few words without gasping for breath. This level of intensity involves movements that make your heart work at 80-95% of your maximum heart rate. Examples include:

  • Running or sprinting
  • Cycling fast or on hills
  • Swimming laps
  • Playing sports
  • Doing heavy yard work (digging or shoveling)
  • Jumping rope

2. Flexibility

Yoga is one of the best type of physical activity to improve strength, balance, and flexibility..

Flexibility-enhancing activities are movements or positions that help stretch specific muscles and improve the range of motion of joints. These activities can help improve balance, reduce body pain, and prevent injury. Flexibility also allows your body to move more freely, making it easier to carry out daily tasks and physical activity. Examples include:

  • Stretching
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Pilates

Related: 7 Surprising Health Risks of Poor Posture (And What You Can Do About It)`

3. Muscle-strengthening

The current Physical Activity Guideline for Americans recommends 2 days of muscle-strengthening activities per week

Muscle-strengthening activities are any movement that builds strength and improves your ability to move and lift objects.  They can help maintain muscle and bone mass, which naturally deteriorate with age. Women, in particular, can benefit from this type of physical activity since skeletal muscle and bone loss are more common after menopause. Examples include:

  • Lifting weights
  • Doing heavy gardening or yard work 
  • Working with resistance bands
  • Doing push-ups, sit-ups, and squat
  • Climbing stairs or hill walking

5 Health Benefits of Movement

Evidence suggests that being physically active can benefit both body and mind. Movement can be a form of medicine that keeps us away from diseases, improves our state of mind, and help us live longer. Here are five proven health benefits of moving your body: 

1. Protection Against Chronic Diseases

Physical inactivity or sedentary lifestyles has been a primary cause of almost all chronic diseases/conditions. In a 1993 study, diet and activity patterns are among the most prominent contributors to mortality, causing an estimated 14% of all deaths in the United States. 

Likewise, several studies have shown that regular physical activity can reduce the morbidity and mortality of many chronic illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and hypertension

Moving your body often, especially during working hours, is essential for preventing and managing these non-communicable diseases. Engaging regularly in aerobic activities can help control body weight, lower blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and enhance overall fitness and quality of life. 

2. Reduce Risks of Cognitive dysfunction

The rising prevalence (1 in 9 adults) of subjective cognitive decline (SDC) is a growing public health issue. But with a physically active lifestyle, you can improve multiple mental abilities, including thinking, learning, problem-solving, decision-making, reasoning, and attention.

Regularly moving your body reduces the risk of cognitive decline. According to a 2020 study, physically inactive people are twice as likely to experience cognitive dysfunction than physically active people.

Physical activity or exercise improves brain function and protects memory by increasing heart rate, which promotes blood flow and oxygen to the brain. It can also boost cognitive performance by causing the part of the brain vital for memory and learning (the hippocampus) to grow in size.  

Moreover, being physically active can help trigger adaptive mechanisms that reduce the incidence of mental conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. 

3. Overcome Depression and Anxiety

While exercise is probably the last thing on your mind when having anxiety and depression, it does help improve your mood and self-esteem. Movement activates certain brain chemicals that make you feel happier, more relaxed, and less anxious. A meta-review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that being physically active can help improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and distress for much of the adult population.

Another study in 2018 found that moving your body for at least one hour a week, regardless of intensity, can prevent 12% of future cases of depression. Regular exercise can help you feel good about your appearance, which may boost your confidence and self-esteem. It can also keep you occupied enough to avoid the cycle of negative thoughts, helping you sleep better at night. 

In addition, working out or running triggers the release of chemicals in the body called endorphins, which can give you feelings of euphoria or a “runner’s high.” These endorphins can also block pain perception and improve a sense of well-being, creating a more energizing, positive outlook in life.    

4. Improve Sex Life

A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine concluded that physically active adults experienced a significant boost in their sex life. A healthy circulatory system is essential for arousal in both sexes, and physical activity helps ensure a strong and smooth blood flow. For instance, regular exercise aids erection in men and is instrumental in vaginal lubrication and clitoral sensation in women. 

The more you move your body, the stronger your core, pelvic floor, and leg muscles get, making your orgasms more frequent and intense. According to a study published in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion, physical fitness is a notable contributing factor to having an orgasm, decreased sexual dysfunction, and improved libido.

Furthermore, exercise can help improve your stamina, sensation, and performance, giving you a better overall sexual experience. Here are a few examples that can help increase sex drive and pleasure:

  • Kegel’s exercise
  • Squatting
  • Lunging
  • Pushups
  • Planking
  • Plyometric exercises (frog jump)

Related: Sex Life: 10 Reasons Why You Should Improve It

5. Increase longevity

Previous research has shown that lifestyle risk behaviors, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and sedentary lifestyles, are responsible for a large portion of premature death worldwide. At the same time, numerous studies have proven that regular physical activity can help increase life expectancy. 

Besides reducing your risks of health diseases, constant moving and sweating stimulate cellular changes that keep you younger.  New research from Brigham Young University reveals that active people have slower cellular aging than those who are sedentary. 

One study found that adults participating in high-level exercises have significantly longer telomeres. Telomeres play a central role in cell aging by capping and protecting the ends of chromosomes from DNA damage. In other words, reducing mortality and prolonging life is possible due to the preservation of telomeres through regular physical activity. 

Another study found that adults taking more steps per day have a progressively lower risk of dying an early death from all causes. For adults aged 60 years and older, the risk for mortality plateaus at 6,000 – 8,000 steps per day, and 8,000 to 10,000 steps per day for 60 years and older.  

How much Movement do you need?

You don’t have to be an elite athlete to enjoy the health benefits of movement. According to the current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activities, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercises, and two days of muscle-strengthening workouts each week. 

While it may sound like a lot, the good news is you don’t have to do it all at once. You can spread your activity throughout the week and plan them according to how much you can endure. 


Incorporating physical activity into your daily life doesn’t require much time and planning. In fact, as simple as standing and walking during your free time comes a long way. While sitting all day doing nothing may sound tempting, it causes several negative health consequences that may shorten your lifespan.  

There’s no doubt that regular physical activity is crucial to having a healthy mind and body and a longer life. Any type of movement you choose to make comes with its own health benefits and can make a big difference to your overall well-being. You can do them any time of the week and at varying intensity levels.

That said, be sure to do activities at a level that’s right for your personal fitness and mobility. You can increase the intensity as you go along. 

Ultimately, it all comes down to your personal resolution. Even if you’ve been sedentary for a long time, it’s never too late to start enjoying the benefits of movement. So if you want to see a difference in your physical and emotional health, you can start by being more active — that means more moving and less sitting.

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