Physical Activity and Wellness
Physical Activity and Wellness

Physical Activity and Wellness

Lead Author(s): Lindsey Nanney

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This text challenges students to think of physical activity and wellness by engaging them in skilled-based & reflective activities that promote lifelong healthy behaviors.

Physical Activity and Wellness

Figure 1. [1]​

​Physical activity is a rock star of high-level wellness. Our hope is that you will discover or confirm this for yourself over the course of the semester. Physical activity impacts all aspects of your wellness even though we tend to focus on its physical health benefits. In this chapter, we will explore the multi-dimensional ways physical activity impacts our wellness. We will look at each dimension of wellness and the impact physical activity can have.


  • Students will understand wellness and how physical activity impacts all aspects of it.
  • Students will consider the importance of physical activity and how to make it a priority.
  • Students will understand the importance of enjoying physical activity.
  • Students will understand what "dose" of physical activity is recommended to enhance wellness.
  • Students will understand how to set strong physical activity goals.

​Wellness Defined

As we begin the semester, we want to help you understand what wellness is and how movement, or physical activity, impacts and is impacted by your wellness. There is no universally agreed-upon definition of "wellness." We will use the National Wellness Institute's definition for this course. Many wellness leaders around the world worked to develop and agree upon the definition below.

​"Wellness is a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential. It is multidimensional and holistic, encompassing lifestyle, mental and spiritual well-being, and the environment. Wellness is positive and affirming. Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence." --National Wellness Institute

Many factors impact our wellness, some outside of our control but thankfully, numerous factors within our control. We hope to equip you to live well, tapping into those factors, within your control, that can positively impact your wellness...your ability to thrive and enjoy life. 

Figure 2. © 2002, John W. Travis and HealthWorld Online [2]

​Dimensions of Wellness

As the definition states, wellness is multi-dimensional. For this course, we will use the 12 dimensions of wellness developed by Dr. John Travis. The circle diagram above shows the 12 dimensions of wellness in his model. During the online wellness lecture portion of this course, you will explore each dimension in depth. If you would like to explore each dimension now, you can visit this link and hover over each dimension for more information. These dimensions are not exclusive of one another, but rather have a reciprocal and overlapping relationship. They impact one another and many dimensions can simultaneously be impacted by one single behavior, like physical activity.

Ch 1 Reading: Wellness Process

Carefully reread the wellness definition above. Is wellness a final destination or an ever-changing journey?


Final Destination


Ever-Changing Journey

Ch 1 Reading: Definition of Wellness

We have a universally agreed-upon definition of wellness, used by all, developed by the National Wellness Institute.





​Movement and Physical Activity Defined

We want to define some words that will be used throughout this course; they are commonly used interchangeably but have distinct definitions and characteristics. Movement is an essential part of our existence. We are in constant movement internally, whether we are conscious of it or not. Movement can be the pumping of blood through the body, the movement that occurs to inhale and exhale, or all the movement involved with going for a walk. In this lab, we will focus on the conscious movement we can create that will enhance our well-being, across all dimensions. We can call this type of movement physical activity. 

Physical activity is any conscious body movement produced by the skeletal muscles that expends more energy than resting. Sometimes the words “physical activity” and “exercise” are used interchangeably. However, in this course, when we refer to physical activity, we do not necessarily mean exercise. Exercise, by definition, is any planned and structured physical activity performed with the objective of improving or maintaining physical fitness. Exercise is a type of physical activity, but all physical activity is not necessarily exercise. Though physical activity is beneficial for our well-being and we should accumulate it throughout the day, exercise is what promotes improvements in physical fitness. 

Physical Fitness is our ability to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activities without undue fatigue. There are two subsets of physical fitness: health-related physical fitness and skill-related physical fitness. In your lab, you may assess your physical fitness at the beginning and end of the semester. You will do so to learn how to assess your own fitness and to determine changes in your fitness during the semester. Our health-related physical fitness is an indicator of health and disease risk, while skill-related fitness is specific to a certain skill or skills which are not necessarily related to health. Our aerobic fitness, muscular fitness, flexibility and body composition all impact our health-related fitness. We will explore those in detail throughout the semester.

​"Everything in us is be alive is to be moving. Inhibit the movement and you create illness. Stop it and you are dead. Allow it fully and you realize wellness" -John Travis
Ch 1 Reading: Definition Check

Match the following terms with the correct example.


Leisurely walking to class


Physical Activity


Walking briskly while taking the long way to class in hopes of impacting fitness


Physical Fitness


Includes internal body processes like pumping blood




Being able to attend and enjoy a spontaneous vigorous hike with friends



​Physical Activity and the 12 Dimensions of Wellness

Figure 3 [2]​

Movement, physical activity, exercise and physical fitness can have a positive impact on all 12 of the dimensions of wellness. As represented in the diagram to the left, no aspect of our well-being goes untouched by living an active lifestyle. If the benefits of regular physical activity could be encapsulated in a pill, it would be the most commonly prescribed medication. Let us consider the relationship between physical activity and each of the 12 dimensions of wellness to see the big picture of the importance of living actively.

​Physical Activity and Self Responsibility and Love

4. [3]​

​One powerful way we can show ourselves love and self-responsibility is increasing our awareness of the importance of physical activity and committing to an active lifestyle. Our bodies make it clear that we are meant to move. A lack of movement can wreak havoc on our wellness, but regular physical activity can help us live well. In order to inhabit self-responsibility and love, we can recognize that we are to be good stewards of our minds and bodies that will serve us for our lifetime. We can choose to take ownership of our well-being and make careful, mindful decisions that will fare us well. Our level of physical activity impacts not just our lifespan but our overall quality of life. Those that are more active live more healthy, quality years than those that are inactive. Being regularly active has many health benefits, and being physically fit has even greater health benefits. The list below includes benefits of physical activity that impact our disease risk (Kruk, 2007; Warburton, Nicol, & Bredin, 2006); we will focus on the many other benefits as we progress through this chapter. Physical activity can:

  • ​Lower blood pressure and resting heart rate
  • Raise HDL cholesterol (the "good" stuff)
  • Manage blood sugar and insulin levels, which prevents Type 2 diabetes
  • Decrease inflammation in the body (inflammation in the body is now thought to be the driver for chronic disease)
  • Help us maintain a healthy body weight
  • Potentially help with smoking cessation
  • Lower the risk or delay the onset of some cancers
  • Improve circulation
  • Improve complexion
  • Improve and maintain bone density
  • Increase and/or maintain lean tissue/muscle
  • Improve energy level throughout the day

​These are just some of the physical benefits! To show self-responsibility and love, we want to take care of our bodies so they can take care of us. There is a reciprocal relationship between physical activity and self-responsibility and love. Those that are regularly active are more likely to be self-responsible and loving toward themselves and others. They take more responsibility for their health, lifestyle and world and generally have higher self-esteem.

How Physical Activity Impacts Breathing, Sensing and Eating

5. [4]​

​Physical activity also impacts our breathing dimension by helping us efficiently and adequately take in and utilize oxygen. In fact, the gold standard assessment of aerobic fitness measures how well we utilize oxygen to sustain exercise. This means that physically fit individuals utilize oxygen more efficiently than those that are not fit. As you will learn in lecture and later in the textbook, breathing has a great impact on the body, so an ability to "breathe easy" has a big impact.

Engaging the senses through seeing, smelling, feeling, hearing, experiencing temperature, and moving helps us enjoy the world and creates an avenue for being present in the moment. Physical activity can easily be a conduit for sensing. Take the time to see, smell, hear, and feel the temperature, be aware of your body movements, and consider how the body feels when you engage in physical activity. Our bodies give us messages and energy through our senses.

​Physical activity even has an impact on the way we eat! Being physically active may encourage us to make better choices about what we eat, such as consuming more fruits and vegetables than low-nutrition foods. Those that are regularly active tend to consume more nutritious foods than those that are not active. Those that are regularly active also tend to eat more intuitively, listening to their body cues about food. There is a reciprocal relationship between physical activity and eating as well; eating a nutritious diet better fuels our active lifestyle and aids recovery from workouts. You will learn more about this relationship in a later chapter.

​How Physical Activity Impacts Moving

6. [5]​

​Being regularly physically active helps you move more easily in your day-to-day life and widens your opportunities for movement due to an increase in bone and muscle strength. Individuals that are acquainted with physical activity throughout their day can get up and down stairs with more ease, can easily go out for a spontaneous game of ultimate Frisbee with their friends, and are less fatigued by the demands for movement throughout the day than those who are sedentary. Regular physical activity at the recommended level (see below), helps your body move more effectively internally. Our heart pumps blood to our lungs and throughout our bodies with more efficiency. The lungs take in and utilize oxygen more effectively, allowing for more oxygen in our blood. The muscles can also take on more oxygen to fuel more movement because of a greater capillary density. As mentioned previously, physically activity also helps manage our blood sugar and insulin movement in the body, decreasing our chance of developing Type 2 diabetes.

​How Physical Activity Impacts Feeling and Thinking

7. [6]​

​Physical activity can positively impact feeling! It can reduce the risk of depression and anxiety. Those that currently suffer from depression and anxiety can benefit from physical activity as well. Both aerobic exercise and strength training can reduce symptoms of depression, and regular exercise can reduce anxiety and panic symptoms. Physical activity can boost mood and self-esteem, and it can also help people sleep better. Engaging in just one bout of physical activity can buffer stress, so physical activity is a wonderful stress management technique. Being physically fit, though, buffers the impact of stress on the body – when you experience stressors in your life, you are less likely to be negatively impacted by the stress response if you are physically fit compared to not. An important note: excessive physical activity can lead to "overtraining" and can lead to depression-like symptoms. Incorporating progression, allowing adequate recovery time, and avoiding obsessive exercise regimens are important so that benefits are not reversed.

Good news for college students...physical activity has a great positive impact on thinking! Physical activity helps us process and utilize information more effectively. It enhances academic performance by improving brain health and executive function. It can also improve attention, time spent on task, and memory. Research also reveals a link between physical activity and less cognitive decline as we age. Physical activity may even delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Being committed to regular physical activity may be one of the best things you can do for your academic and professional success.

Ch 1 Reading: Physical Activity and Wellness 1

Match the benefit of physical activity or fitness to the dimension of wellness most impacted by the benefit.


Showing love to body by taking care of it through physical activity




An active lifestyle increases your ability to engage in any desired types of physical activity




An active lifestyle can move us to make better choices about the foods and beverages we consume




Physical activity can provide opportunities to be fully present and aware of our senses




Physical activity can promote more efficient and productive consumption and utilization of oxygen




Physical activity can prevent or manage depression and anxiety




Regular engagement in physical activity increases cognitive function which can improve academic performance


Self-responsibility and love

How Physical Activity Impacts Playing and Working   

Figure 8. [7]

Physical activity can helps us enjoy life to the fullest, whether at work or play. When we are physically active, and better yet, physically fit, we are able to freely do whatever we choose, within reason. It is easy to say "yes" to a vigorous game of football or a hike up a scenic mountain when we are active and fit. We are also more likely to enjoy active "play" when we are fit. We can engage in and enjoy just about any activity we choose to do! This makes our options for "play" endless.

Work is also less strenuous for those that are active and fit. Fit individuals are able to take on more and handle it more effectively than those that are not. Fit individuals tend to be more productive and less stressed at work. Employers are drawn to employees that are physically active, as they  may assume they are healthier, more productive, happier, and less likely to miss work. Who doesn't want to enjoy life more and be more appealing in the job market? 

Though our culture tends to consider exercise a form of "work" or a dreadful have-to/should-do task, it is best to see it in a different light. Try to engage in exercise that feels more like play to you personally, or at least find ways to make it enjoyable work to optimize its benefits and sustainability.

​How Physical Activity Impacts Communicating and Intimacy

​It may seem like a stretch to say that physical activity impacts communicating and intimacy, but it can. Physical activity can promote positive self-esteem. Those that are physically active report feeling better about themselves than those that are not active. Having healthy self-esteem is a factor that impacts our ability to communicate effectively, openly and connect with others. Physical activity can also create opportunities to build connections with others. Many people enjoy discussing physical activity or engaging in physical activity with others. It might be the accountability of meeting up with a friend, the social connection of exercising with a small group, the competition or camaraderie in sports, or group exercise that make it appealing. Either way, the enhanced self-esteem and opportunities for social interaction make physical activity an avenue for engaging in effective communication, and it can even lead to strong, intimate relationships.

Beyond the benefit of improved communication and intimate (not necessarily romantic) relationships, physical activity does impact our ability to be physically intimate with a consenting partner. Physical activity can boost libido, enhance sexual health, and improve physical stamina.

How Physical Activity Impacts Finding Meaning and Transcending

10. [8]​

​Those that are regularly active report that they experience greater satisfaction with their lives and actually report having a greater sense of purpose. Though we don't know whether physical activity or strong purpose came first, a relationship is present. Physical activity could foster finding meaning, or finding meaning could help foster physical activity.

There is more! Many people report a sense of transcending or flow when they engage in physical activity. When we engage in physical activity, we have the opportunity to be fully present, get lost in the moment, or have a sense of great clarity. Runners often discuss what is called a "runner's high,” when time seems to stand still, the running seems effortless, and they are fully present.

​Physical Activity Recommendations for Health

​To realize all of the benefits of physical activity, a certain minimum "dose" is recommended. According to many well-respected organizations, minimum physical activity recommendations for health are specified below. However, keep in mind that some physical activity is better than none. If the below recommendations are not feasible for you, accumulating some physical activity is still beneficial. Also, those that are currently engaging in little to no physical activity should not immediately pursue meeting recommendations. Gradually progressing into meeting the recommendations is best. Each will be discussed in more detail through this textbook.

Figure 11. [9]​

​Select physical activity that is enjoyable! 

Those that enjoy the physical activity or exercise they engage in are more likely to sustain the behavior. Even those that are motivated to engage in physical activity for health or appearance reasons are not as likely to sustain an active lifestyle as those that are motivated by enjoyment. Try different activities, variations of activities and intensities of activities to discover your physical activity personality and preferences. Some enjoy "fun,” some enjoy challenge, others may enjoy camaraderie or alone time, and some may enjoy lots of variety while others may enjoy predictable structure. There is no one exercise prescription that must be followed for benefits. Maybe you enjoy running and traditional resistance training, but if that sounds dreadful to you, there is no necessity to do it. Explore what you enjoy. Creativity or out-of-the-box activity is also welcomed. You are not limited to a gym or exercise videos – the important part is movement. Find movement that fits you – your interests, resources, experience, fitness level, values, and desires. Find your way and enjoy it!

​Aerobic exercise: 

Accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week OR 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week OR a comparable combination of the two.

Resistance training: 

Train all major muscle groups through resistance training at least 2 times per week.

Flexibility training: 

Engage in dynamic stretching before exercise. Engage in static stretching after a warn-up or workout for all major muscle groups at least 2-3 times per week, daily is preferable.


Break up bouts of extended sit time (greater than 60-90 minutes) with 3-5 minutes of movement.

Ch 1 Reading: Physical Activity Recommendations

Match the minimum physical activity recommendations below.


150 minutes of moderate intensity per week


Flexibility training


All major muscle groups 2 times per week


Aerobic exercise


All major muscle groups 2-3 times per week or daily


Resistance training


Reduce extended amounts



Ch 1 Reading: PA and Personal wellness
No correct answers: No correct answer has been set for this question

Click on the dimension(s) of wellness you personally feel have been most impacted by physical activity in the past.

Physical Activity Goals 

by Rachel Williams

12. [10]​

​Whether you are new to physical activity, a regular gym-goer, or a collegiate athlete, motivation can become the one thing standing in the way of enjoying the benefits physical activity has to offer. When you are in college, it can be hard to find the time to be active. Excuses may pile up, and you convince yourself that you will do it another day. Or maybe you push yourself to work out the recommended 3 days a week, but your 30-minute workout sessions lack the focus, intensity, and variation you want to see for improvements. So how can we change this? By setting goals. Goals are a great way to keep yourself motivated to move. Having an end goal in mind creates meaning and purpose for what you are doing. If you have no goal, there is no purpose for why you are engaging in physical activity, which tends to coincide with a lack of motivation. Set multiple goals of different variations and time frames and hold yourself accountable, and you will see yourself accomplishing more than activity without purpose.

​How to Set a Goal

When you are setting a goal, it is typically not one blanket statement. Usually, it is best to have an umbrella goal. The umbrella is the main goal, your endpoint, the finish line. Under the umbrella are the little goals you will have to achieve to complete the main goal. These are typically short-term goals or action steps. Below is an outline of the type of goals you should have, followed by an explanation. Remember that all goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Time-Oriented.

  • ​Long-Term Goal: This is your umbrella goal. The time frame of completing this goal should be between 6 months to a year. You want a definitive end date. "I will achieve _______ by _______."
  • ​Short-Term Goals or Action Steps: These are the goals that fall under the main umbrella goal. The time frame for these can vary. Consider breaking down these goals into the following model that builds to your goal like a staircase.
    • ​Daily: This is what you can do today to be one step closer to your goal.
    • Weekly: A weekly goal will consist of completing a set amount of daily goals.
    • Monthly: Monthly goals will consist of completing a set amount of weekly goals.

Figure 13. © 2017
University of North Carolina Wilmington, SHAHS​ [11]

How to Achieve Your Goal and Stay Motivated

​Now that you have set your goals, how will you accomplish them? The ideas below are strategies you can use to hold yourself accountable to achieving your goals.

  • Write it down: The first step to achieving any goal is writing it down. Make it a point to take out a pen and paper and note your various goals for the day, week, month, and end-goal.
  • See your goals everywhere: It is one thing to write down your goals, but if you never see that piece of paper again, those goals will become faint reminders in the back of your mind. To ensure that you stay on top of your goals, you should see them every day. Think about taping your goals in your bathroom mirror, on the door to your room, on the front of your notebook, etc. Seeing these goals will help them stay in the front of your mind.
  • Share your goals with others: It is important for others in your life to know what your goals are. Telling someone else adds more accountability to the goals, and they could even help you along the way.
  • Celebrate your success: Acknowledge and take an opportunity to celebrate your short-term goal success. Focusing solely on the umbrella or long-term goal can be discouraging. Celebrate the accomplishments that are gradually bringing you closer to achieving your overall goal...even if they seem like small steps, they are steps!

​It is one thing to understand what your goals are and be able to share them with others, but how do you stay motivated to complete your goals? Give your goals meaning. If you can connect your goals to your life, then you are one step closer to achieving them.

  • ​Reflect on why you want to achieve the goal: Just like how a goal gives purpose to the activity you do, make sure your goals give purpose to your life. Think about answering these questions when starting to complete your goals.
    • ​Why is achieving this goal important to me?
    • What does this goal mean to me, what does it mean for my life? 
    • Is there something I hope to learn from completing this goal?
    • How will this goal make me a better person?
  • ​Reflect after goal time periods have ended: At the end of each time-period you set for certain goals, take the time to look back at what you were able to complete. Focus on the positives. Make a list of what you were able to accomplish and share it with others who are supportive of you and your goals. Instead of pointing out the things you did not do, create new goals to apply to the next goal time period. If something was not realistic (for example, maybe with your time constraints, you cannot possibly fit in the 60-minute exercise sessions your originally planned), try to modify the goal to fit the SMART model instead of abandoning it altogether.
Ch 1 Reading: SMART Goals

Which of the following is a strong physical activity goal following the SMART goal-setting format?


Do aerobic exercise on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 30 minutes at a moderate intensity for 3 months.


Lose 10 pounds for my upcoming vacation to the Caribbean by working out more often.


Increase my strength by bench pressing a heavier weight.


Try out yoga and Pilates.

Ch 1 Reading: Strategies for Success

Select all that apply. According to the text, which of the following can help you achieve your goals?


Write down your goals.


Give yourself an ultimatum that if you do not succeed early on¸ you will abandon your goal.


Tell others about your goals.


Know your "why" for striving for the goal. Know its purpose.


Set goals with another person so you are striving for the same exact physical activity goals.


Place your written goals in a location that is highly visible.


Make a list of what you've accomplished toward your goal at specified time intervals.

Ch 1 Reading: Physical Activity Goal
No correct answers: No correct answer has been set for this question

What is a physical activity goal that you want to accomplish this semester? Use the SMART goal-setting format to write your goal below. Write it down and bring it to your lab. We wish you the best on this wellness journey and look forward to helping you experience all the ways physical activity impacts wellness.

​Image Credits

[1] Image courtesy of wetravelto under CC BY 2.0.

[2] Image used with permission of WellPeople (HealthWorld Online).

[3] Image courtesy of Stockpik under CC0 1.0.

[4] Image courtesy of Jill Wellington under CC0 1.0.

[5] Image courtesy of Sesse under CC BY 3.0.

[6] Image courtesy of Max Pixel under CC0 1.0.

[7] Image courtesy of Moyan Brenn under CC BY 2.0.

[8] Image courtesy of John Hain under CC0 1.0.

[9] Image courtesy of David Whittaker under CC0 1.0.

[10] Image courtesy of Nick Youngson under CC BY-SA 3.0.

​[11] © 2017 University of North Carolina Wilmington, SHAHS


Caspersen, C. J., Powell, K. E., & Christenson, G. M. (1985). Physical activity, exercise, and physical fitness: definitions

Kruk, J. (2007). Physical activity in the prevention of the most frequent chronic diseases: An analysis of the recent evidence. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, 8,325-338.

Warburton, D., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: The evidence. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 174, 801-809.