We have all heard the often-alarming statistics about the consequences of an inactive lifestyle. Rising cases of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and a myriad of other health problems have been found through the developed world. We have been quick to adapt to an age where technology largely replaces physical activity. Power tools, washing machines, riding lawn mowers all make our lives easier, but the price we pay is that, as a society, we are much less active than we used to be. Since physical activity was a part of everyday life throughout human history: hunting, gathering, the harvest of food and the building of shelter, we are not accustomed to the necessity of choosing to be physically active. Physical activity is no longer built into our lifestyle, so we must manually introduce it in order to reap its positive physical and mental health benefits.

The concept of health
Traditionally, you were considered to be in good health if you were free of any diseases and other ailments. Most of what we might consider "health care" was really "sickness care," as if there was some basic level that we could fall below but never exceed. More recently the concept of health has expanded, where you can actually improve health beyond that basic level and enjoy benefits of doing so. It is currently believed that over one half of disease is lifestyle related, compared to about one third resulting from both genetics and the environment. With billions of dollars spent each year on health care, poor lifestyle choices are not only detrimental to the individual, but they are counterproductive with respect to society as a whole.

The concept of wellness
The term "wellness" describes a number of components that are conducive to health. It is commonly broken up into six categories will more or less are sometimes used. Those categories are: physical, emotional, intellectual, social, occupational, and spiritual. As a whole, wellness describes and individuals quality of life and a sense of well-being, going beyond the absence of illness. In fact, someone experiencing physical illness can still experience wellness through the other categories. Increasing wellness requires personal responsibility and positive lifestyle choices. There is no "upper limit" to a person's wellness as they can always strive to improve in some small way.

The relationship between physical activity, physical fitness, and health
Physical activity is not the same as wellness, but it does comprise an important part of the physical wellness component. We must distinguish between physical fitness and physical activity. Physical fitness is one's ability to perform a physical activity. Physical activity is the actual behavior, which may result in an increase in physical fitness. There are a number of fitness components that have a relationship to good health: cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, and body composition. We can effect change in all of these areas through targeted exercise.

The benefits of physical activity
Physical activity and physical fitness have an inverse relationship to mortality. Many studies have shown that active or fit individuals have a lower rate of death compared to their inactive or unfit counterparts. Note that this is not due to an increased lifespan, but rather to a decrease in premature mortality. While it is difficult to conduct a study that controls for all factors, such as smoking habits, dietary habits, and job stress, as well as genetic and environmental factors, the sheer volume of data and the careful consideration of these extraneous factors make this correlation impossible to ignore.

Physical activity is also strongly linked to many health improvements and plays an important role in both the prevention and management of disease. Physical activity decreases the risk of developing heart disease, hypertension, various forms of cancer, and diabetes. It may also benefit those who suffer from arthritis and osteoporosis as it fosters healthy muscles, bones, and joints. It plays a crucial role in the prevention of obesity, which results when energy intake exceeds energy expenditure. In the elderly, physical activity helps one to remain independent, lowering the risk of falling, improving mobility and the ability to grasp and reach, stand and sit and other daily functions.

On a societal level, there are huge economic benefits. Reducing the amount of strain on the health care system would free up billions of dollars to spend elsewhere. As we noted earlier, over 50% of health problems can be traced to lifestyle choices and are completely preventable. As a result, taking responsibility for our own health, both through physical activity and other lifestyle choices, we can improve not only our own lives but society as a whole.