Fitness Glossary: Terms You Should Know

On this page are terms commonly connected with fitness information you may have heard before or may know nothing about. Having helpful health information is just as, if not more important at times than just being healthy. Regardless of the level of your fitness program having the proper health information can mean the difference between knowing if what you’re doing is correct or relying on common misconceptions related to health and fitness information.

The following terms are commonly used in the discussion of 
exercise and physical activity. 

A measure of energy from food (3,500 kilocalories of food energy = 1 pound of body weight). Also the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1° C (1000 calories = 1 kilocalorie). An interesting fact: When we see "Calories" on a food label it is actually measuring kilocalories


Cardiorespiratory fitness(also called aerobic endurance or aerobic fitness)

Cardiorespiratory endurance is the ability of the body's circulatory and respiratory systems to supply fuel and oxygen during sustained physical activity.



Exercise is physical activity that is planned or structured. It involves repetitive bodily movement done to improve or maintain one or more of the components of physical fitness—cardiorespiratory endurance (aerobic fitness), muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition.


Household physical activity

Household physical activity includes (but is not limited to) activities such as sweeping floors, scrubbing, washing windows, and raking the lawn.



Inactivity is not engaging in any regular pattern of physical activity beyond daily functioning.



The amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 kg of water 1° C. Kilocalorie is the ordinary calorie discussed in food or exercise energy-expenditure tables and food labels.


Leisure-time physical activity

Leisure-time physical activity is exercise, sports, recreation, or hobbies that are not associated with activities as part of one's regular job duties, household, or transportation.


Moderate-intensity physical activity

Moderate-intensity physical activity refers to a level of effort in which a person should experience:

    • Some increase in breathing or heart rate
    • a "perceived exertion" of 11 to 14 on the Borg scale


    • the effort a healthy individual might expend while walking briskly, mowing the lawn, dancing, swimming, or bicycling on level terrain, for example.
  • 3 to 6 metabolic equivalents (METs); or
  • any activity that burns 3.5 to 7 Calories per minute (kcal/min)


Occupational physical activity

Occupational physical activity is completed regularly as part of one's job. It includes activities such as walking, hauling, lifting, pushing, carpentry, shoveling, and packing boxes.


Physical activity

Physical activity is any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that result in an expenditure of energy.


Physical fitness

Physical fitness is a set of attributes a person has in regards to a person's ability to perform physical activities that require aerobic fitness, endurance, strength, or flexibility and is determined by a combination of regular activity and genetically inherited ability.


Regular physical activity

A pattern of physical activity is regular if activities are performed:

  • most days of the week, preferably daily;
  • 5 or more days of the week if moderate-intensity activities (in bouts of at least 10 minutes for a total of at least 30 minutes per day); or
  • 3 or more days of the week if vigorous-intensity activities (for at least 20-60 minutes per session).

Note: These are minimum recommendations. Greater health outcomes can be achieved by doing additional types activities and/or increasing time spent doing activities.


Transportation physical activity

Transportation physical activity is walking, biking or wheeling (for wheelchair users), or similar activities to and from places such as: work, school, place of worship, and stores.


Vigorous-intensity physical activity

Vigorous-intensity physical activity may be intense enough to represent a substantial challenge to an individual and refers to a level of effort in which a person should experience:

    • large increase in breathing or heart rate (conversation is difficult or “broken”)
    • a "perceived exertion" of 15 or greater on the Borg scale;


    • the effort a healthy individual might expend while jogging, mowing the lawn with a nonmotorized pushmower, participating in high-impact aerobic dancing, swimming continuous laps, or bicycling uphill, carrying more than 25 lbs up a flight of stairs, standing or walking with more than 50 lbs for example.
  • greater than 6 metabolic equivalents (METs); or
  • any activity that burns more than 7 kcal/ min


Weight-bearing physical activity

Any physical activity that imparts a load or impact (such as jumping or skipping) on the skeleton.




U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity and health: a report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 1996.

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