Fitness Tips

How the ‘Physical Activity Pyramid’ Takes the Guesswork Out of Making a Well-Rounded Workout Plan

Photo: Getty Images/Thomas Barwick
It's no secret that staying active is essential for maintaining both your physical and your mental well-being. But whether you're just getting started on your fitness journey, or you've been working out for years and just want to mix up your routine, it can sometimes be challenging to build an exercise plan that is well rounded.

To help, experts have created the "Physical Activity Pyramid," which is a resource designed to make ticking all of the boxes easy. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity per week, while also focusing on bone and musculoskeletal health to help prevent falls and keep your muscles strong well into your life.

Made for adults, the pyramid is a guide that helps you plan out how to incorporate exercise and other physical activity into your day-to-day life. Like the food pyramid, the lower portion is the largest and holds the most important activities to do, and as you move towards the top, the activities become less beneficial, so those are the ones to do more sparingly. When used properly, it can help you to track the kinds of activities that you are doing and the ones that are missing from your daily life to create a manageable, healthy, and balanced routine.

What is the Physical Activity Pyramid?

According to Onyx fitness coach, Brian Trainor, "there are so many physical, mental, and emotional benefits that our bodies obtain by being active." Because working from home, increased sedentary behavior, and more time spent being inactive are growing problems in many of our daily lives, it can be easy to forget to get your body moving. "Coming up with a plan using the Physical Activity Pyramid is a great first step in the right and healthy direction," he explains. The levels of the pyramid are as follows:

Level 1

The first, or bottom, level of the pyramid is the biggest portion. It includes activities that are essential to your health and well-being, but that you are likely already doing. These include things like walking your dog, running errands, or commuting and doing active household chores like mowing the lawn, mopping, or raking leaves. Ideally, you should incorporate these movements into your daily routine.

Level 2

The second level of the pyramid features activities that are more aerobic, so they get your heart rate up more than the more leisurely level 1 movements. This could be things like hiking, biking, jogging, playing recreational sports, or dancing and you should be doing these activities two-to-four times per week.

Level 3

Level 3 is similar to level 2 in that you should also be incorporating the suggestions two-to-four times a week. This category features more active and athletic endeavors like weight training, high-intensity workouts, and calisthenics.

Level 4

Finally, level 4, the smallest portion of the pyramid, is held for inactivity. This includes sedentary behaviors that have you sitting for long periods of time or lying on the couch. These are the sorts of habits that you should steer away from since they can have adverse health repercussions.

"In a world filled with video games, desk jobs, and Netflix, it is easy to become lazy and unmotivated. The Physical Activity Pyramid does a wonderful job giving you a visual representation on how to combine the different types of physical activity to achieve an active and healthy lifestyle. With the foundation of the pyramid being simple, everyday exercises, it is a great starting point for all those getting ready to take flight in their fitness journey and striving to become a little bit healthier every single day," says Trainor.

How do I get started?

When creating an exercise program, the two most important factors to think about are lowering the chance of injury and creating motivation. The pyramid allows you to start slow with simple, day-to-day exercises and work your way up to higher levels of strenuous activities, thus lowering the risk of injury. It also shows plenty of great activities to perform to get the heart rate up and the body moving so you never have to worry about getting bored with the same-old workout routine, explains Trainor.

Aerobic exercises are great to speed up your heart rate and improve your lung and cardiovascular health, while strength building exercises are catered towards building and maintaining your bone and muscle mass. It's also important to incorporate balance and flexibility improving movements into your routines to prevent injury and increase mobility in your body. That said, no matter where you choose to start and "no matter how big or small that movement is, try to get the body working," says Trainor. "Even if that is just going for a walk for 30 minutes a day, that little walk will eventually progress into something more. The whole key to becoming physically healthy is consistency. It is not moving the body two times a week, thinking that will suffice. It is trying to get into a routine that you feel works for you," he continues. Low-impact workouts or breaking up your activities into 30-minute segments are both great places to start. The whole key to the pyramid is increasing the number of physical activities you do a day and limiting the time spent being sedentary.

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