University of Nebraska Medical Center

Fitness FAQs

Why should I exercise? 

Physical activity has many physical, psychological, and even cognitive benefits.   

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, evidence shows that physical activity provides immediate health benefits. Even a single bout of physical activity can reduce anxiety and blood pressure and improve quality of sleep and insulin sensitivity. 

Regular consistent physical activity over time can lead to even more long-term health benefits. 

  • For adults, physical activity helps prevent eight types of cancer (bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, stomach, and lung); reduces the risk of dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), all-cause mortality, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and depression; and improves bone health, physical function, and quality of life. 
  • For older adults, physical activity also lowers the risk of falls and injuries from falls. 
  • For pregnant women, physical activity reduces the risk of postpartum depression. 
  • For all groups, physical activity reduces the risk of excessive weight gain and helps people maintain a healthy weight. 

Evidence shows that physical activity can help manage health conditions that Americans already have. For example, physical activity can decrease pain for those with osteoarthritis, reduce disease progression for hypertension and type 2 diabetes, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improve cognition for those with dementia, multiple sclerosis, ADHD, and Parkinson’s disease. The right whys can serve to fuel your motivation to move.  

Reference: HHS Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 

How do I get started with an exercise program?  

To do physical activity safely and reduce risk of injuries and other adverse events, people should follow these guidelines for Safe Physical Activity participation from HHS: 

  • Understand the risks, yet be confident that physical activity can be safe for almost everyone.   
  • Choose types of physical activity that are appropriate for their current fitness level and health goals, because some activities are safer than others. 
  • Increase physical activity gradually over time to meet key guidelines or health goals. Inactive people should “start low and go slow” by starting with lower intensity activities and gradually increasing how often and how long activities are done.  
  • Protect themselves by using appropriate gear and sports equipment, choosing safe environments, following rules and policies, and making sensible choices about when, where, and how to be active.  
  • Be under the care of a health care provider if they have chronic conditions or symptoms. People with chronic conditions and symptoms can consult a health care professional or physical activity specialist about the types and amounts of activity appropriate for them. 

If you are new to exercise or changing your approach to activity, consider taking the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire screening form: The Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire 

Is there a difference between "exercise," "physical activity," and "physical fitness"? 

Physical activity has been defined as "any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure." Moderate physical activity is the equivalent of brisk walking at three to four mph for most healthy adults. Physical activity is closely related to, but distinct from, exercise and physical fitness. Exercise is a subset of physical activity defined as "planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movement done to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness." Physical fitness is "a set of attributes that people have or achieve that relates to the ability to perform physical activity."  

Physical Activity and Public Health - Recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine JAMA 1995; 273: 402-407  

Until just a few generations ago, "exercise" as defined above was unnecessary because regular adequate physical was automatic. Today’s modern technology has made activity optional. We now need to choose to move to achieve the amount of activity that is required for our health, physical capabilities, and well-being.

What is the recommended duration I should exercise? 

According to The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults need at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, like running, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week. Adults also need muscle-strengthening activities, like lifting weights or doing calisthenics, at least two days each week. 

Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits.  

What are some ways to be active in the workplace or while working at home? 

Adults should strive to move more and sit less throughout the day. This recommendation is based on evidence that shows a strong relationship between increased sedentary behavior and increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and all-cause mortality. All physical activity, especially moderate-to-vigorous activity, can help offset these risks. 

We now know that any amount of physical activity has some health benefits. Americans can benefit from small amounts of movement throughout the day. Even if you are involved in regular exercise, like a daily brisk walk, prolonged periods of inactivity have an independent health risk. 

The benefits of aerobic exercise can be achieved by accumulating short bouts of activity throughout the day. You can do an effective strengthening exercise in less than two minutes and a stretch in less than one minute. If the situation permits, try not to stay still for more than an hour at a time. Some physical activity is better than none.

What is cardio and why is it important? 

Cardiovascular conditioning or aerobic exercise is any physical activity that involves the large muscles of the body contracting rhythmically at an intensity which is capable of being sustained continuously. Examples include things like brisk walking, running, cycling, rowing, stair climbing, and dancing. Cardio not only exercises the working muscles, but it also works the heart and vascular system. It increases physical work capacity, the ability to work or play harder and tire less readily. It is an effective means of burning calories, uses fat as a fuel, and enhances fat metabolism. It provides physical, psychological, and even cognitive benefits. Always begin a cardio workout with an appropriate warmup and end with an adequate cooldown period.   

What are some types of cardio for someone new to exercise?  

Walking is an accessible way for many to do cardio. Running is a more advanced intense option. Stairs are almost as available and allow you to increase the intensity without the impact.

Who do I contact if I want to know more about being more physically active? 

Peter Pellerito, Fitness Specialist at the UNMC Center for Healthy Living, is available to assist you with your efforts to lead a more physically active lifestyle. Contact him at 402-559-5253 or ppellerito@unmc.edu to schedule a virtual or in-person appointment.