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The Importance of Light Physical Activity for Better Health

When we hear the terms “exercise” or “physical activity,” we automatically think of setting aside a block of time in the day to hit the gym or take a run outside to sweat it out. In reality, physical activity is much more than sweating buckets or being short of breath.

Certainly, doing moderate to vigorous-intensity activities bring a lot of health benefits but not many are aware that light-intensity physical activity matters too. Read on to know more about light-intensity activity and how it can benefit health in different ways.

What is Light-Intensity Physical Activity?

Experts measure activity in metabolic equivalents or METs. One MET is defined as the energy it takes to sit quietly. A light-intensity physical activity is an activity performed at under 3 METs.

In other words, light-intensity activities are activities that do not cause you to break a sweat or make you short of breath. Some examples of light activity include casual walking, doing household chores, fishing, standing while doing work, and the like. 

What Is the Importance of Determining Physical Activities as Light, Moderate, and Vigorous-Intensity Physical Activity?

Determining and becoming aware of the intensity of any physical activity will help ensure that you are at the correct intensity to achieve your health or fitness goals.

Knowing the intensity also helps ensure that you don’t do an activity where you may injure yourself. Think about it this way; if you’re an exercise beginner, you certainly wouldn’t dive into doing vigorous physical activity right away. 

If you go from no physical activity to vigorous-intensity activity in a second, you may end up injuring yourself or seeking medical help because your body was not prepared for the sudden shift in physical activity.

Starting with light activities as a beginner can help you get used to the motions, which you can then use to gradually move to moderate activities and then to more vigorous ones.

As another example, maybe you’re someone who is used to doing moderate-intensity physical activity. If you’ve been keeping at it for a while now, you may not find it rewarding anymore. Therefore, it’s time to increase your effort and progress to higher-intensity physical activity. 

Why is It Important to Know Light and Low-Impact Physical Activity?

Time and time again, we are reminded that physical activity is good for our overall health. Staying active helps with numerous health outcomes; it can help with mood, sleep, lower the risk of chronic disease, and can even reduce the likelihood of early death. 

In contrast, spending too much sedentary time throughout the day raises health risks and contributes to the increase of poor health conditions such as weight gain, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and more.

Sedentary behavior is also a big contributor when it comes to all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, and cancer mortality, especially in older adults. 

To combat the ill effects of sedentary behavior, experts recommend individuals move more and increase their physical activity levels.

In fact, the United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults should engage in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-vigorous intensity exercises such as brisk walking, jogging, tennis, or swimming laps. They also recommend doing muscle-strengthening exercises that engage major muscle groups at least 2 days per week.

If you’re used to sitting around all day long and engaging in sedentary behaviors, increasing your physical activity doesn’t mean immediately launching yourself into vigorous exercise. Your journey in reducing your sedentary behaviors can begin with doing light physical activity throughout the day.

Light physical activities include walking around the neighborhood, doing short bike rides, fishing, cooking, ironing, folding laundry, washing dishes, and putting away groceries.

You read it correctly; doing housework counts as light physical activity. According to researchers at the American Cancer Society, doing light physical activity is healthier than just sitting.

Numerous research has linked physical activity with a lower risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and mortality risk. There are also research studies that display how long periods of sitting are linked with a higher risk of disease and death.

Putting those two together, the American Cancer Society then began to study the effect of replacing physical inactivity with light activity and with moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Moderate-intensity activities include brisk walking and dancing, while vigorous activity includes jogging, running, and soccer.

The research involved almost 38,000 men and almost 55,000 women in the Cancer Prevention Study-II Nutrition Cohort from 1999 to 2014. Among the participants, those who had 17 minutes a day or less of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and were the least active group, replacing 30 minutes of sitting time with light activity was linked with a 14% lowered risk of dying, while moderate-intensity activity was linked with a 45% lower risk of dying. 

For participants who were already active and had more than 38 minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous activities, the researchers did not see any health benefits. The authors then concluded that replacing sedentary time with light activity may help less active adults live longer.

Looking for more proof? Studies done by the National Institute for Health Research, as well as articles in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and other physical activity epidemiology reported beneficial associations between time spent engaging in light activity and health.

In particular, it lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced the risk of coronary heart disease, and had positive effects on blood glucose. 

Another research done by Ulf Ekelund, a professor in the department of sports medicine at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences in Oslo involved 36,383 participants who were at least 40 years old and were grouped into one of four quartiles, ranging from the least active to the most active, for six different categories of activity.

They were also categorized by gender, age, body mass index, socioeconomic status, smoking status, and education level. Data revealed that those who spent the most time engaged in any kind of physical activity, no matter the intensity, were 73% less likely to die. Individuals who logged the lightest activities were 62% less likely to die than the most sedentary group. 

Is Light Exercise Good Every Day?

You don’t have to spend hours at the gym and engage in moderate to vigorous activity to be healthy and fit. Even light physical activity can bring significant benefits to your health. If you struggle in fitting structured exercise into your daily life, one of the best things that you can do is to incorporate light activity into your daily habits. 

No matter the age, being physically active allows us to gain significant health benefits. If we can’t engage in high-intensity exercise, a good way to reduce time spent being sedentary is to do light physical activity.

An important component of total physical activity energy expenditure, light activity helps in regulating body weight and body composition. Light activity and low-intensity exercise have also been shown to be effective at reducing cardiovascular disease risk and lowering glucose, insulin, and fat levels in the blood. 

Knowing the positive effects of light activity should make you reduce your time spent being sedentary. You can start right at home by doing work such as cooking, ironing clothes, washing the dishes, or sweeping the floor. Take it up a notch by doing slow walks in your yard or around the block. All these light exercises will add up and help improve your overall health.

Final Note

Regular physical activity can help improve muscular fitness and cardiorespiratory fitness and reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, diabetes, various types of cancer (including breast cancer and colon cancer), and depression. It also helps reduce the risk of falls, as well as helps maintain a healthy body weight. 

Engaging in regular exercise may benefit the health of children and adolescents in many ways. It can enhance their physical fitness, improve insulin resistance, increase cardiometabolic health and bone health, deliver cognitive outcomes, and provide improvements in mental health. 

If you’re not in the position to do moderate-to-vigorous exercises, a step that you can do is to include more light activities during your leisure time. One by one, start working these light activities in your work and home routines and see how much they improve your health in significant ways.

Just by increasing your current activity, you can lower your risk of heart disease and other health issues. The more you avoid being physically inactive and sedentary, the healthier and fitter you will be. 

Tricia Montano

Tricia founded Pain Free Working in 2019 due to suffering from degenerative disc disease in her L5-S1 from working an office job for the past 18 years. She and her team strive on finding and reviewing the best office equipment to help fellow pain sufferers find relief and to enable people like her to do their jobs comfortably.