Glossary

This section provides definitions for many terms important to physical activity and health. It has been adapted from the glossary provided in the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list, and definitions of additional terms can be found in the Committee's report.

Absolute intensity. See Intensity.

Accumulate.The concept of meeting a specific physical activity dose or goal by performing activity in short bouts, then adding together the time spent during each of these bouts. For example, a goal of 30 minutes a day could be met by performing 3 bouts of 10 minutes each throughout the day.

Adaptation.The body's response to exercise or activity. Some of the body's structures and functions favorably adjust to the increase in demands placed on them whenever physical activity of a greater amount or higher intensity is performed than what is usual for the individual. These adaptations are the basis for much of the improved health and fitness associated with increases in physical activity.

Adverse event. In the context of physical activity, a negative health event. Examples of adverse events as a result of physical activity include musculoskeletal injuries (injury to bone, muscles, or joints), heat-related conditions (heat exhaustion), and cardiovascular (heart attack or stroke) events.

Aerobic capacity. See Maximal oxygen uptake.

Aerobic physical activity. Activity in which the body's large muscles move in a rhythmic manner for a sustained period of time. Aerobic activity, also called endurance activity, improves cardiorespiratory fitness. Examples include walking, running, and swimming, and bicycling.

Balance. A performance-related component of physical fitness that involves the maintenance of the body's equilibrium while stationary or moving.

Balance training. Static and dynamic exercises that are designed to improve individuals' ability to withstand challenges from postural sway or destabilizing stimuli caused by self-motion, the environment, or other objects.

Baseline activity. The light-intensity activities of daily life, such as standing, walking slowly, and lifting lightweight objects. People who do only baseline activity are considered to be inactive.

Body composition. A health-related component of physical fitness that applies to body weight and the relative amounts of muscle, fat, bone, and other vital tissues of the body. Most often, the components are limited to fat and lean body mass (or fat-free mass).

Bone-strengthening activity. Physical activity primarily designed to increase the strength of specific sites in bones that make up the skeletal system. bone strengthening activities produce an impact or tension force on the bones that promotes bone growth and strength. Running, jumping rope, and lifting weights are examples of bone-strengthening activities.

Cardiorespiratory fitness (endurance). A health-related component of physical fitness that is the ability of the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen during sustained physical activity. Cardiorespiratory fitness is usually expressed as measured or estimated maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max). See Maximal oxygen uptake.

Dose response. The relation between the dose of physical activity and the health or fitness outcome of interest. In the field of physical activity, "dose" refers to the amount of physical activity performed by the subject or participants. The total dose, or amount, is determined by the three components of activity: frequency, duration, and intensity.

Duration. The length of time in which an activity or exercise is performed. Duration is generally expressed in minutes.

Endurance activity. See Aerobic physical activity.

Exercise. A subcategory of physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive, and purposive in the sense that the improvement or maintenance of one or more components of physical fitness is the objective. "Exercise" and "exercise training" frequently are used interchangeably and generally refer to physical activity performed during leisure time with the primary purpose of improving or maintaining physical fitness, physical performance, or health.

Fitness. See Physical fitness.

Flexibility. A health- and performance-related component of physical fitness that is the range of motion possible at a joint. Flexibility is specific to each joint and depends on a number of specific variables, including but not limited to the tightness of specific ligaments and tendons. Flexibility exercises enhance the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion.

Frequency. The number of times an exercise or activity is performed. Frequency is generally expressed in sessions, episodes, or bouts per week.

Health. A human condition with physical, social and psychological dimensions, each characterized on a continuum with positive and negative poles. Positive health is associated with a capacity to enjoy life and to withstand challenges; it is not merely the absence of disease. Negative health is associated with illness, and in the extreme, with premature death.

Health-enhancing physical activity. Activity that, when added to baseline activity, produces health benefits. Brisk walking, jumping rope, dancing, playing tennis or soccer, lifting weights, climbing on playground equipment at recess, and doing yoga are all examples of health-enhancing physical activity.

Health-related fitness. A type of physical fitness that includes cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength and endurance, body composition, flexibility, and balance.

Intensity. Intensity refers to how much work is being performed or the magnitude of the effort required to perform an activity or exercise. Intensity can be expressed either in absolute or relative terms.

  • Absolute. The absolute intensity of an activity is determined by the rate of work being performed and does not take into account the physiologic capacity of the individual. For aerobic activity, absolute intensity typically is expressed as the rate of energy expenditure (for example, milliliters per kilogram per minute of oxygen being consumed, kilocalories per minute, or METs) or, for some activities, simply as the speed of the activity (for example, walking at 3 miles an hour, jogging at 6 miles an hour), or physiologic response to the intensity (for example, heart rate). For resistance activity or exercise, intensity frequently is expressed as the amount of weight lifted or moved.
  • Relative. Relative intensity takes into account or adjusts for a person's exercise capacity. For aerobic exercise, relative intensity is expressed as a percent of a person's aerobic capacity (VO2max) or VO2 reserve, or as a percent of a person's measured or estimated maximum heart rate (heart rate reserve). It also can be expressed as an index of how hard the person feels he or she is exercising (for example, a 0 to 10 scale).

Lifestyle activities. This term is frequently used to encompass activities that a person carries out in the course of daily life and that can contribute to sizeable energy expenditure. Examples include taking the stairs instead of using the elevator, walking to do errands instead of driving, getting off a bus one stop early, or parking farther away than usual to walk to a destination.

Maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max). The body's capacity to transport and use oxygen during a maximal exertion involving dynamic contraction of large muscle groups, such as during running or cycling. Also known as maximal aerobic power and cardiorespiratory endurance capacity.

MET. MET refers to metabolic equivalent, and 1 MET is the rate of energy expenditure while sitting at rest. It is taken by convention to be an oxygen uptake of 3.5 milliliters per kilogram of body weight per minute. Physical activities frequently are classified by their intensity using the MET as a reference.

Moderate-intensity physical activity. On an absolute scale, physical activity that is done at 3.0 to 5.9 times the intensity of rest. On a scale relative to an individual's personal capacity, moderate-intensity physical activity is usually a 5 or 6 on a scale of 0 to 10.

Muscle-strengthening activity (strength training, resistance training, or muscular strength and endurance exercises). Physical activity, including exercise, that increases skeletal muscle strength, power, endurance, and mass.

Overload. The amount of new activity added to a person's usual level of activity. The risk of injury to bones, muscles, and joints is directly related to the size of the gap between these two levels. This gap is called the amount of overload.

Performance-related fitness. Those attributes that significantly contribute to athletic performance, including aerobic endurance or power, muscle strength and power, speed of movement, and reaction time.

Physical activity. Any bodily movement produced by the contraction of skeletal muscle that increases energy expenditure above a basal level. In these Guidelines, physical activity generally refers to the subset of physical activity that enhances health.

Physical fitness. The ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue, and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and respond to emergencies. Physical fitness includes a number of components consisting of cardiorespiratory endurance (aerobic power), skeletal muscle endurance, skeletal muscle strength, skeletal muscle power, flexibility, balance, speed of movement, reaction time, and body composition.

Progression. The process of increasing the intensity, duration, frequency, or amount of activity or exercise as the body adapts to a given activity pattern.

Relative intensity. See Intensity.

Relative risk. The risk of a (typically) adverse health outcome among a group of people with a certain condition compared to a group of people without the condition. In physical activity, relative risk is typically the ratio of the risk of a disease or disorder when comparing groups of people who vary in their amount of physical activity.

Repetitions. The number of times a person lifts a weight in muscle-strengthening activities. Repetitions are analogous to duration in aerobic activity.

Resistance training. See Muscle-strengthening activity.

Specificity. A principle of exercise physiology that indicates that physiologic changes in the human body in response to physical activity are highly dependent on the type of physical activity. For example, the physiologic effects of walking are largely specific to the lower body and the cardiovascular system.

Strength. A health and performance component of physical fitness that is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to exert force.

Strength training. See Muscle-strengthening activity.

Vigorous-intensity physical activity. On an absolute scale, physical activity that is done at 6.0 or more times the intensity of rest. On a scale relative to an individual's personal capacity, vigorous-intensity physical activity is usually a 7 or 8 on a scale of 0 to 10.

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