Habitual physical activities are those requiring any movement by the large muscle groups of the musculoskeletal system, including walking, running, cycling, as well as more passive activities such as gardening and any employment-related pursuit that demands similar muscular output. Physical activities are commonly rated according to two essential benchmarks: the degree of intensity required, often described as low, medium or moderate, and high intensity activities, and the duration of the activity. An activity is distinct from exercise, as the former is a more generalized, less structured concept, and the latter is a planned physical activity, specifically undertaken to improve the physical fitness of the participant.
The description of a physical activity as "habitual" elevates the undertaking from regular or mundane to something that is a part of the lifestyle of the participant. When something is performed out of habit, there is an ongoing willingness to join in without coercion, coupled with a regularity that is either daily or near that rate. Although not always labeled as such, habitual physical activity has been recognized as the backbone to healthy living for many centuries.
Habitual physical exercise has been the subject of worldwide scientific review with respect to the relationship between such exercise and the prevention of cardiovascular disease, the reduction in respiratory illness, and a general elevation in quality of life. The general proposition that can be advanced is that habitual physical activities that are of at least moderate intensity and duration are important to the resolution of each of these issues.
Structured athletic programs are a habitual physical activity. Serious athletes clearly receive the physical benefits of sport participation; the risks to the health of these athletes usually originate with the risks inherent to the sport, which detract from its positives.
There is a direct impact that habitual physical activity has on various groups. For children and adolescents, numerous research studies have confirmed an alarming increase in the incidence of obesity in grade school and high school students, both male and female. A number of factors have been cited in this respect, including the rise in popularity of computer-based video games, and a decline in some countries in mandatory physical education courses in schools. There is no doubt that with the increase in obesity levels in these age groups, there has been a correspondingly dramatic rise in the incidence of juvenile diabetes, an irreversible condition that will likely result in life-long health problems. When children are required to engage in physical activity, either structured, as in competitive sport, or unstructured physical play, child obesity rates are demonstrably lower.
As for adult cardiovascular health, there is clearly a long-term relationship between habitual physical activity and the reduction of common risk factors regarding heart health, which include the buildup of plaque that causes cholesterol in the blood vessels and high blood pressure.
Counter to other influences of modern lifestyle, there is a well-supported belief that physical activity will at least act as a partial counterweight to the negative aspects of diet, including the consumption of high fat.
While there are tremendous benefits when habitual physical activities are put in place with children, persons of any age and virtually any condition will derive a discernable benefit from physical activity.
There are few circumstances where typical habitual physical activity will be harmful to a participant, other than the generally accepted risk of a pursuit. Bicycles will occasionally sustain a flat tire and cause the rider to fall to the ground, and runners will sometimes step into a road pothole and suffer a sprained ankle or foot injury. These events are unforeseen. In rare circumstances, habitual physical activity may transform itself into something approaching an unhealthy addiction or preoccupation with the activity. The boundary between commitment to fitness and obsession is crossed when participants lose sight of why they continue to engage in longer and longer sessions, even while the physical structure becomes debilitated. This circumstance has been occasionally observed in devotees to aerobics and distance running.