Physical activity and mental health: Types of physical activity

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Find out how much physical activity you need every day and how you can add more exercise into your daily routine.

How much physical activity do I need?

Guidelines from the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) divide a 24-hour day into four segments.

  • Sweat
  • Step
  • Sleep
  • Sit

For teens, it recommends:

  • Sweat: At least 60 minutes (1 hour) of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity every day. Vigorous intensity and bone and muscle strengthening activity at least three days a week.
  • Step: Several hours of structured and unstructured light intensity activities such as playing, walking to or from school, doing chores.
  • Sleep: 8 to 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
  • Sit: No more than 2 hours of recreational screen time a day.

How can I tell if my activities are moderate or vigorous intensity?

Vigorous-intensity activities make you sweat and feel "out of breath", leaving you able to speak only a few words between breaths. Examples include dancing, running, biking or swimming at a fast pace.

Moderate-intensity activities also make you sweat and breathe a little harder, but you can still talk while you move. Examples include rollerblading, bike-riding and moderate level yoga.

What types of activities will strengthen my muscles and bones?

Activities that strengthen muscles and bones force the body to bear weight. They include hiking, playing tennis or basketball or doing weight training with body weight or hand-held weights.

Cycling and swimming are good for building muscles and improving heart health, but they are not as effective as other activities for building strong bones. This is because the bones are not required to bear as much weight while the body is in a seated position or in water.

I’m not very physically active. How do I start?

If you don’t have a routine, spend time finding something you enjoy doing and take gradual steps from there. Getting outside, going for a swim or walking, running or bike riding with friends or family are all great ways to start.

The most important thing is to choose an activity that fits your interests. If you prefer doing physical activity on your own, consider running, biking or swimming. If you enjoy being part of a group while you’re active, then team-based sports like basketball or soccer might be a better option.

Also consider if you can access the activity pretty easily. Uniforms, equipment, lessons and travel to and from training or competitions can make some activities expensive. To reduce some costs, think of some activities that might be available through your school or your city’s or town’s recreation centres.

I’m already physically active. Do I need to get some activity every single day?

Even if you play an organized sport a few times a week, it’s a good idea to move on your off days as well. Think about walking or cycling to a friend’s house or going for a swim.

Last updated: March 22nd 2019