Definition and Classification of Physical Activity and Health

Definition and Classification of Physical Activity and Health in 2020


Physical Activity … The objective of the article is to document and classify the set of terms associated with FA and Health. For this purpose, a virtual bibliographic selection was made in the Proquest, Sciencedirect, free medicals journals and Revista Sobreentreñancion database, mainly; using keywords in English and Spanish such as definition, terminology, classification, physical activity, physical exercise, physical condition, sport, and health.

 Within the search, those reviews that did not have institutional or bibliographic support, or a qualitative description and classification of the terms were excluded; This allowed 12 documents to be chosen, of which one, that of Corbin et al., presents the classification of terms, in processes (physical activity, exercise, sport) and products (Physical condition, health, and well-being); the remaining publications specifically defined each term.

 In conclusion, most of the selected documents raised the need for standardization of terms; therefore, this article provides basic principles in terminology and classification of FA and Health; what allows with clarity, to recognize the variables of any investigative study and to facilitate the communication between the population involved in the context of the Physical Activity.

physical activity


This text discloses some of the terms commonly used in the field of exercise science, with a view to making a real distinction between physical activity, exercise, physical condition, and sport, considering that there is some conceptual confusion that consequently does not allow appropriate use of the terms for research development and the execution of health promotion and disease prevention programs. 

In order to meet this objective, the United States Department of Health and Human Services has generated a consensus regarding the interpretation of each of the terms mentioned here; for this reason, their work seems to be the best standardization for many. However, other definitions will not be excluded as long as they can complement the work developed here. 

In addition, a classification of terms is made in: products and processes. The products refer to the terms that indicate the state of the person, that is, physical condition, health and well-being. Finally, we refer to processes such as lifestyles and behaviors, reflected in the definitions of physical activity, exercise, sport …

This in order to identify dependent variables such as products and independent variables as processes, so that , the objective of the article is fulfilled, which is to document and classify the set of terms associated with FA and Health, facilitating the understanding and measurement for research development and the execution of health programs.


Regarding Physical Activity, we can define it as body movement produced by a skeletal contraction that increases energy expenditure above the basal level. Although it is not the only conception of what it is, it is worth adding other found definitions, such as: “any activity that involves significant movements of the body or limbs”, and “all movements of daily life, including work, recreation, exercise, and sports activities. ” Considering each of these definitions, we would say that physical activity comprises different dimensions, forms, and/or subcategories. 

Next, a description will be made of the characteristics of physical activity with its dimensions and its categorization. From the outset, we will start with the dimensions where PA develops, these being occupational, home, transport, and leisure activities, the latter subdivided into sports, recreation, training, or exercise activities.

After these dimensions, we can categorize FA according to its properties, whether it is mechanical or metabolic. In the first, it is taken into account if the tension of the muscular contraction generates movement, in other words, if there is an isometric contraction, in which there is no change in the length of the muscle, that is, there is no movement, or if, on the contrary, there is an isotonic contraction that generates constant tension during dynamic exercise assuming the presence of movement. 

On the other hand, the metabolic category is classified according to the type of energy transfer during exercise at different intensities. First, the aerobic metabolic category provides the greatest amount of energy transfer, during long-term, moderate-intensity exercise, through 3 metabolic pathways: glycolysis, the Krebs cycle, and the respiratory chain. 

Finally, we find the anaerobic metabolic category, where two subcategories predominate, one of immediate energy production through adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and phosphocreatine (CRP) called (anaerobic alactic), which is developed during short tests. and high intensities like sprinting; and the second category is (lactic anaerobic), which requires the anaerobic reactions of glycolysis to generate energy in the short term, that is, during intense exercises of longer duration (1 to 2 minutes). 



As for exercise, it is worth saying that it is a concept discussed in literature since the beginning of the 20th century, this was because there was no real distinction between it and Physical Activity. Likewise, exercise was related to vigorous executions of aerobic and competitive physical activities, consequently, they were difficult to maintain as a strategy to promote health. Only until the 1990s did the term exercise cease to be used as a generic for all types of activity. (10)

Something similar to the term AF, occurs with the term Exercise or its equivalent, “physical training”, we can define this as “a subcategory of physical activity, being planned, structured and repetitive, in addition to having the purpose of improving and maintaining one or more of the components of physical fitness ”, although it is not the only conception of what it is, this seems to be an integral definition in its own judgment. 

However, we consider other definitions important, which do not deviate considerably from the first: “It is a free-time physical activity, directed with the intention of developing physical fitness”, or “any activity that involves the generation of force by activated muscles, including activities of daily living, work, recreation, and competitive sports. ” 

Now, it is worth adding the typical characteristics of exercise, which involve a wide range of metabolic production power. In particular, exercise-related to physical fitness and health require a discrete or moderate rate of metabolic potential energy transformation, that is, work at submaximal or moderate intensities, in order to provide aerobic or cardiovascular physical fitness.

 Lastly and conversely, competitive training exercise particularly requires high intensities that develop maximum power and strength.  In summary, both physical activity and adequate physical exercise can improve or maintain physical fitness, making them a central component of health and well-being. 


Regarding sport, we must point out what is a subcategory of specialized physical activity, of a competitive nature that requires physical training and that is generally carried out at high intensities. It is also regulated by state or government institutions and bodies. So its main objective is not to improve or maintain health, ultimately it is mainly made to compete. 


Physical aptitude

In relation to physical fitness, it must be said that most of the definitions found agree that this is the person’s ability to perform the tasks that their daily life demands in order to improve quality of life.

Next, we will point out each found definition of physical fitness: “Ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor, without undue fatigue and with enough energy to enjoy the free time used and face emergency situations”, and “a state characterized by the ability to perform vigorous daily activities, and a demonstration of the characteristics and abilities that are associated with a low risk of developing hypokinetic diseases. ” 

The same can be said about physical fitness when considering its attributes such as cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular endurance, muscular strength, speed, flexibility, agility, balance, reaction time and body composition, this, because it allows identifying and differentiating physical fitness of performance and physical fitness of health.

physcial activity

Below is an explanation of each:

Physical health fitness: as its name says it is related to health, and its importance lies in the fact that it includes basic attributes such as cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular resistance, body composition, and flexibility, such as the components that promote health and well-being. Consequently, the rest of the attributes have relative importance that will depend on the particular performance of the person and the health objective that is to be achieved. 

Physical performance fitness: With it, high sports performance is sought, hence they are considered as important, in addition to the basic attributes, the attributes related to skills such as coordination, balance, reaction time, speed; so specific motor capacities are sought for each competitive activity or sport. 

Physiological physical fitness: Indicates the functioning of biological systems such as metabolic, morphological, and bone integrity; systems that can improve markedly with low increases in physical activity without the need for training aimed at improving physical performance as well as oxygen consumption.

In conclusion, the 3 basic states to achieve physical fitness are cardiovascular function, body composition, and appropriate flexibility, according to the variables of age, race, gender, among others. After that, you can select activities that generate adaptations and reinforce or enhance abilities according to the person’s particular objective. 

It is the case of people who decide to improve their sports performance, the three basic states of physical fitness are not enough, therefore, it is necessary to improve coordination, reaction time, speed, among others


Regarding the term health, it is described as a process of dynamic self-regulation of the organism in the face of environmental demands, which allows it to adapt to enjoy life, while we grow, mature, age, get injured and wait for death; that is to say, a constant adaptation to the conditions of life, to be able to fulfill ourselves personally or collectively. The truth is that it does not require absence of disease since each individual or community has needs and risks during their lives, which can benefit or spoil the performance of each individual. (one)


As regards well-being, it is said that it is another of the terms used in different ways, which can cause confusion. Now, regarding the relationship between health and well-being, it was found that the latter is a positive component of health, a subcategory, which reflects the individual’s ability to enjoy life successfully, that is, feel good in the physical context, social, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, professional and environmental. In conclusion, well-being can be referred to as a state of being, rather than a way of living. 

It should be added that the contexts mentioned above are considered sub-dimensions of well-being, and are related to each other. In other words, if one of them is affected, the others are too, of course altering the person’s well-being. That is why healthy behaviors and environments are relevant in promoting health and well-being, and therefore the quality of life, which reflects the sense of happiness and satisfaction for our lives. 

Summing up, we must point out that well-being, as well as health, are broad, that is to say, multi-dimensional, concepts that go beyond physical fitness, which suggests the need to identify the sub-dimensions of being to later search for instruments that can measure them and generate valid and reliable results of what is well-being. For now, it is well known how unhealthy lifestyles are one of the main causes of the increase in mortality and morbidity rates, but little is known about how these lifestyles, the environment, and health systems, influence well-being and health, as so far most of the existing measures focus on fitness. 


This review was developed, with the purpose of detailing the terminology and classification of FA and Health; which allows standardizing the language or the communication between the professionals of the sciences of the exercise. In addition, the variables are agreed upon, which could be used in the research studies carried out in the field of Physical Activity. Although the bibliographic review is not extensive, it serves as a reflective and motivating step to continue on the path of perfection, which brings us closer to results of greater reliability and validity.

On the other hand, the concept of physical fitness is presented as a multidimensional and hierarchical model explained graphically here.

About Arslan Fazal

Check Also

Why Are Health and Fitness So Important?

Why Are Health and Fitness So Important?

Regular exercise or physical activity improves the physical and mental fitness of the body, which leads to a reduced …