Key physical activity terms everyone should know
Man working out with weights

This article is part of a series in collaboration with ParticipACTION. Discover how "Everything gets better when you get active!"


Canadians need to move their bodies every day to learn better, work better and sleep better. In fact, physical activity is one of the simplest ways to enjoy many health and wellness benefits. To reap these rewards, it’s recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week (that’s 20 minutes of heart-pumping movement per day), limit long periods of sedentary behaviour and do several hours of light physical activity.

When it comes to physical activity, there’s a lot of jargon and (mis)information out there, so we’re here to help you navigate through it all. Here are some key physical activity terms and their descriptions to help you gain a better understanding of them, their benefits and the value of adding these movement opportunities to your life:

Physical activity vs. exercise vs. fitness

We tend to use the terms “physical activity” and “exercise” interchangeably, but believe it or not, they aren’t actually the same. “Physical activity” is an umbrella term for all bodily movement. It can be of varying intensity and duration and includes exercise, work, leisure, standing, household chores and gardening.

“Exercise” is a form of physical activity that’s planned, specific and structured, such as going for a jog, working out at the gym or doing a group fitness class. People exercise with the specific goal of improving or maintaining their “fitness”, which is a way to measure the effectiveness of exercise. “Fitness” can include everything from coordination and athletic skill to health indicators such as cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body composition.

Training styles: HIIT vs. LISS

High intensity interval training (HIIT) gets your heart rate up – fast! With HIIT, physical activity is broken up into short, timed and alternating bursts of intense all-out effort (think 40 seconds of burpees or jumping jacks) followed by a short interval of slow movement or rest (think 20 seconds of walking on the spot). The point of HIIT is to move fast and hard for a fraction of the time you’d normally exercise, with the goal to get your heart rate into its max zone.

HIIT is effective if your goal is to burn calories and bring yourself and your muscles to exhaustion quickly. It’s also beneficial if you want to keep your workouts on the shorter side (HIIT sessions can be as little as four to seven minutes). The trade-off: it puts a great deal of stress on your system and it’s not advisable to do it every day. You don’t need to start off in a blaze — you set the intensity based on your ability.

Low-intensity steady state (LISS) training is the yin to HITT’s yang. With LISS, you’ll perform a physical activity – like walking, hiking or swimming – for a longer duration (think 30 minutes to an hour) and at a level of low exertion. The idea is to maintain a consistent effort in the low-to-moderate intensity range. You’ll burn calories and get your heart rate up to about 50 per cent of its maximum rate, but you’ll do it for a longer time period to reap the benefits of physical activity. Unlike HIIT, which is very taxing and may require some recuperation time, you can do some form of LISS every day.

Physical inactivity vs. sedentary behaviours

“Physical inactivity” doesn’t mean sitting all day or choosing not to move at all — it simply means not meeting daily or weekly recommendations for physical activity. If you’re getting less than 10 minutes of heart rate-boosting physical activity a day or only getting about 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous movement each week, for example, you’re not meeting the recommended guidelines.

“Sedentary behaviours”, on the other hand, are things you do while you’re awake in a lying down, reclining or sitting position that require little or no movement and use very little energy. Working at a desk, watching TV while lying on the sofa and reading in bed are all sedentary behaviours. Canadians should aim to limit their sedentary time to under eight hours a day.


Sonnet and ParticipACTION have a commercial marketing partnership.

Looking for a home and auto insurance quote?