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While we all know that keeping your body moving, your muscles strong, and maintaining good flexibility is good for overall health, many of us have trouble getting into the daily routine of doing so. Sometimes our avoidance is due to lack of energy, but it can also come from fear of injury, aches and pains, arthritis, or even chronic pain. However, what if there was something that could make it easier? Something that could help you get into an exercise routine, reduce health risks associated with inactivity, improve pain from a chronic injury, and reduce your risk for health issues down the road? Luckily, the Physical Activity Pyramid was designed to do just that.

What is the Physical Activity Pyramid?

The Physical Activity Pyramid is a guide that helps adults plan out their physical activity, so it becomes an easy, routine part of their everyday life. The Physical Activity Pyramid is similar to the food pyramid, with the bottom containing the largest and most important activities for healthy daily living and the top tier containing the least beneficial activities, or the things you should do sparingly. The goal of the Physical Activity Pyramid is to gradually increase the amount of physical activity you do and decrease your inactive time.

By following the pyramid’s recommended activities, people have been able to become more active and create a healthy, beneficial routine that can help maintain and even improve musculoskeletal health, and heart health, as well as build endurance.

What Are the Health Benefits of the Physical Activity Pyramid?

Regular physical activity does wonders for your body. Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and can help your cardiovascular system become stronger and work more efficiently. Even something as simple as going for a 30-minute walk a few days per week can drastically lower your chance for health conditions.

"We are constantly reminding patients of the importance of daily movement,” says Summit Health physical therapist Amy Dougan. “Movement helps boost our natural endorphins, improve our mood, promote good bone health, and maintain strength. It also helps with our immune health. Try starting with a simple walk for 20-30 minutes a day.”

Physical Activity Pyramid Levels

Bottom Level – Level 1: Lifestyle Physical Activity

The bottom level of the physical activity pyramid contains simple exercises and moderate physical activities that are likely already part of your daily life but are critically important to maintain on a regular basis.Graphic design of the physical activity pyramid, illustrating different activities

Some of the exercises found at this bottom level include:

  • Walking to the store
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Raking the leaves
  • Mopping the floor
  • Going on a leisurely walk

Middle Levels –
Level 2: Active Aerobics
Level 3: Active Sports and Recreation

The next two levels of the physical activity pyramid consist of more strenuous exercise such as aerobics, stretching for flexibility, and muscle fitness exercises. Some activities you'll find here are biking, hiking, dance sessions, jogging, and playing certain sports. The goal is to complete these activities around three to five times each week.

Above these workouts, on Level 3, lie the activities you should spend two or three days per week on such as higher intensity workouts, weight training, and calisthenics.

The Top of the Physical Activity Pyramid – Level 4: Inactivity

The top of the physical activity pyramid depicts sedentary behaviors that need curbing, such as watching television or sitting at a desk. In excess, these types of behaviors have been linked to adverse health outcomes. The goal here is to recognize those behaviors and replace them with physical health activities found at the base of the pyramid.

Get Started with the Physical Activity Pyramid

A fantastic way to score some serious health benefits is to start modifying your everyday schedule to include some new activities from the pyramid. However, if you’re new to exercising or just starting up again, it is suggested that you begin slowly by following only the exercises at the base and omitting some of the activities from the top. Once your body gets used to moving, more activities can be added.

No matter your physical activity level, everyone should practice cutting down on things at the top such as TV time, excessive video game playing, and long sustained periods of sitting or remaining inert.

Within just a few weeks, the physical activity pyramid can help you make changes that will lower health risks and improve your overall health and quality of life.

A Summit Health physical therapist and nutritionist can help you set goals and keep you on track. And, if you don’t have a primary care provider, now’s as good a time as ever to get one. Call (908) 273-4300 to be matched with a doctor in your area.


Let Us Be Your Partner in Well-Being
At Summit Health, we care about our patients’ overall health. There are many reasons you may come in  for a visit, but we want to be sure you get the most out of every appointment. At your next visit, be sure to talk to your provider about appropriate screenings and necessary evaluations. And, if you are over the age of 65, you may want to discuss fall risk, bladder health, physical activity expectation, and mental health. Additionally, if you are having trouble affording your medications, let your provider know. It’s important to have these conversations to stay on top of your health and minimize your risk of developing certain diseases.