Why is a physically active lifestyle important? How do we get more active?

Physical exercise offers a cascade of health benefits such as mood-boosting hormones and endorphins, boosts beneficial structural changes in the brain including children, adults, and older adults, and improves the functional capacity of your physical body, including bone and joint health, and muscle strength. Being physically active and regular exercise (resistance and cardiovascular training) allows you to partake in activities of daily living (ADLs) with a lower risk of experiencing pain and injury. ADLs are essentially every coordinated movement you make during the time you get up to go to sleep at night. 

ADLs are our routine movements and essential to completing tasks, they range from getting up and down from the floor or up and into bed, walking, carrying children, getting in and out of the car, putting a baby in and out of a car seat, getting on and off a bicycle, taking the stairs, carrying heavy items, packing and putting your groceries away, bending over to pick up items, housework, gardening, washing your car, and even washing and wiping yourself independently. We want to manage ADLs without becoming easily exhausted, experiencing pain, or having mobility restrictions. 

A sedentary lifestyle - its potentially harmful to quality of life

On the other hand, a sedentary lifestyle with prolonged physical inactivity and long bouts of sitting can make us more prone to injury and falls, experience back pain, low energy, and even worse moods.

Sedentary lifestyles can contribute to loss of balance and coordination, reduced joint stability (consider walking down the stairs or walking down hill - it requires sudden stops and breaking, requiring eccentric muscle strength, joint, and core stability), muscle loss (sarcopenia) in older age and bone loss (osteoporosis) contributing to an increased risk of falls, fractures, and breaking bones. Injuries from falls can greatly reduce independence and quality of life. 

Combined, these factors may contribute to a loss of physical function thus impeding ADLs, and may lead to a reduction in quality of life. Important to note, that sedentary lifestyles are associated with an increased risk of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancers


How do we increase levels of physical activity?

Widespread reduction of sedentary lifestyles is not tackled at the individual level; there will not be societal shifts in physical activity levels by educating individuals on their responsibility. It is not solely the fault of an individual lacking health knowledge or having the wrong attitude. Tackling physical inactivity is helpful when viewed from a broader perspective that accounts for the interactions between micro and macro-level factors and influences.

The perspective of the Social Ecological Model can be applied to help understand influences on health behaviours, such as physical activity. Various environmental, structural, political, and social factors can attenuate physical activity opportunities. This helps us visualize the dynamic interplay between various levels of influences from the individual, to the larger operation of society, and how these mechanisms contribute to shaping health behaviours. 

There are various elements to consider when seeking potential factors that support or deter physical activity in individuals, special populations, or entire communities. 

Take a few moments to consider your environment and potential influential factors on physical activity levels:

  • Does your local public health agency offer accessible physical exercise programs in the community, care homes, or workplaces? Or do they only provide recommended guidelines and educational reading materials on being active?

  • Are there recreational facilities in your area offering accessible physical activity programs from qualified staff?

  • Does your Ministry of Education mandate physical exercise and exercise literacy in schools, including non-competitive physical exercise?

  • Do children's daycares offer movement classes and exercise breaks?

  • Are you aware of local businesses offering gym membership subsidies or cycle-to-work schemes to staff? Does your workplace culture support physical activity for employees and incentivize participation?

  • Does your city provide safe bicycle lanes and safe public transport? Are there sidewalks and ample crosswalks allowing you to get around by foot or bicycle? Can you and your family afford bicycles? 

  • Are you aware that your family physician offers exercise prescriptions or physical activity and health counseling?

  • Is there high crime and theft in your neighbourhood?

  • Are there good quality playgrounds and green spaces?

  • Is physical exercise important to you? Was your family physically active?


A Broader View from a Social Ecological Model
Individual / Intrapersonal

Age, genetics, sex, education level, socioeconomic status, barriers, facilitators, interests, skills, knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes regarding physical activity and exercise.



Social networks, friends, coworkers, family, family doctors, social norms, and social interactions can influence health behaviours.

Cultural norms and values are influencing factors for physical activity. 

Family is incredibly influential. Families with children who are active together increase the likelihood of children being physically active in the future and prioritize exercise as self-care. 


Community and the Built Environment

Transportation design, urban design, accessibility to green spaces, parks, and trails, crime and safety; is the way to work or school safe? Will your bicycle be stolen? Bicycle infrastructure, and aesthetics of outdoor spaces. 

Schools- What are the national and state policies and decision-making structures that constitute PA promotion in schools; Is it a unified approach or do approaches differ per region, school board, and school? Are there multi-level interventions for physical activity offered to students? Are there movement breaks for students, after-school programs, or sporting events? Is there sufficient green space for children to play at recess, and sufficient play equipment? Are teaching staff aware of the connection between physical activity, cognitive development, and mood for children?

Are you aware of employers offering bike-to-work schemes, physical exercise incentives, recreation subsidies, or transit subsidies? Are there physical activity supporting policies such as walking meetings or the option for standing desks? 

Is your area walkable and safe? Is it safe for children to walk to school? Is there safe and equal access to green spaces and playground equipment? Are there good, equitable opportunities for recreation and physical activity?



Zoning codes, development regulation/use of land, public recreation investments, healthy public policy, and resource allocation. 

Are there regulations and policies supporting physical activity and exercise? Health and wellness benefits? Public park mandates? Funding for physical activity initiatives and bicycle lane laws?

Increasing population-based physical activity levels is a collaborative approach and interventions should address various levels of determinants.


How does a physical activity practitioner help grow physical activity levels? 

A physical activity practitioner is a qualified professional who works to expand the reach of physical activity and exercise intervention programs and initiatives using public health approaches and evidence-based methods. 

Physical activity practitioners may work on specific areas for action, and develop and maintain a network of coalitions and stakeholders to improve physical activity levels for target populations. These range from sub-populations with specific diseases and conditions, age groups, and vulnerable and at-risk groups, and may expand the reach for population-based interventions for communities, regions, federal state-wide programs, and/or national programs. 

Example areas for action: research, capacity building, awareness and education, partnerships, developing supportive environments, creating/disseminating communication messaging materials/content through various channels, policy, national recommendations and guidelines, community-based programs, surveillance, monitoring and evaluation, and funding.