The Physical Activity Pyramid is a great tool to help you meet the exercise recommendations outlined in the federal government's
(see my posting "Exercise Recommendations: An Overview"). The Physical Activity Pyramid is analogous to the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid (now known as MyPyramid). Its emphasis, however, is not on a acquiring a balance of nutrition, but on adopting a lifestyle balanced with physical activity.
The premise of the pyramid is that physical activity recommendations fall on a continuum based on current activity and fitness levels as well as health status. Various organizations and hospitals have devised their own pyramids but most follow a similar progression through the pyramid. One such pyramid can be viewed on the American Academy of Family Physicians' website at www.aafp.org/afp/20030315/1249_f1.jpg
. Another, designed for children, can be found on Iowa State University's website at www.extension.iastate.edu/publications/PM1950.pdf
JoAnne Bieniasz, an Exercise Physiologist at Royal Oak's William Beaumont Hospital's Ministrelli Women's Heart Center, co-designed an activity pyramid that she uses with patients who visit the center. According to Bieniasz, the activity pyramid helps "bring attention to the importance of physical activity. It addresses exercise where people are starting from. The biggest misconception that people have is [what defines] physical activity vs. aerobic exercise." Physical activity is defined by the American College of Sports Medicine as "bodily movement that is produced by the contraction of skeletal muscle and that substantially increases energy expenditure". Gardening is an example of physical activity. Exercise is defined by the American College of Sport's Medicine as a "type of physical activity [that involves] planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movement done to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness". Jogging is an example of exercise.
By providing a visual, the activity pyramid not only shows you where you are starting, but it lets you see where you want to go in terms of increasing physical activity and exercise levels throughout the day and week. The pyramid typically has 4 levels. The base of the pyramid represents physical activities that everyone should do on a daily basis. Examples of activities at this level include yard work, household chores, and walking the dog. If you are inactive, the base is where you want to start. Begin by increasing your participation in activities at this level. Once you have comfortably added these activities routinely you will then want to progress to the subsequent levels in the pyramid.
The middle two levels of the pyramid are the starting point for the sporadic exerciser. The next level up from the base includes aerobic exercise activities. These should comprise at least 150 minutes, preferably 300 minutes, per week of activity. Examples of activities at this level include hiking, swimming, rollerblading, and tennis. The level subsequent to this involves flexibility and muscle-strengthening exercises that should be performed at least 2-3 days per week. Resistance bands/tubes, free weights, and/or weight machines can be used to strengthen muscles. The goal of the sporadic exerciser is to consistently engage in activities at these two levels.
If you routinely exercise, then your goal is to choose activities from all levels of the pyramid. Choosing a variety of activities will help to eliminate boredom.
The pinnacle of the pyramid includes activities that all individuals should keep to a minimum. Examples of activities at this level include watching TV, playing video games, and working at the computer for extended periods of time.
Use the Physical Activity Pyramid to guide you in your physical activity choices. Be creative and explore new activities. By so doing, you will experience a balance of physical activity on your journey toward improved fitness and health.
Note: Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.