Glossary of Terms: Physical fitness and related terms

This glossary covers the terms used in the promotion of physical fitness. it includes the terms, physical activity, exercise, and types of exercises. The proper understanding of these terms and concepts are critically important in improving care for those living with a stroke.

Medical clearance

All guidelines recommend for anyone living with a stroke should consult a physician and undergo medical screening to decide the suitability of exercises and range of motions.

Physical fitness:

Physical fitness refers to a situation in which someone can do their expected physical activities – activities of daily living, leisure – without undue fatigue (Saunders et al. 2016). When physical fitness is declining, the range of physical activities including Activities of Daily Living (ADL) will become increasingly difficult and vice versa.

The concept entails a set of attributes. It includes the ability to carry out the activities of daily living with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue, and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time activities and to meet unforeseen emergencies (Carl J Caspersen and colleagues).

Physical fitness includes the following five components:

  • Heart and lung (cardiorespiratory) fitness: another name for this term is “endurance” which refers to the ability to do physical activities for an extended period than usual.
  • Muscle strength: this refers to the ability of a certain muscle or a muscle group to exert certain force such as pushing, pulling, or lifting.
  • Muscle power; refers to the ability to do single powerful action or a movement.
  • Balance; refers to the ability to maintain balance and posture while moving or stationary.
  • Range of motion (flexibility); this refers to the ability to do all movements around a joint.
  • Body composition; refers to the relative amount of fat or fat-free mass.

Physical activity:

Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that result in energy expenditure (Carl J Caspersen and colleagues).

Physical activities can either be planned or unplanned. Exercise refers to planned physical activities.


Exercise refers to a sub-set of physical activity that involves planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movement that is done to maintain or improve one or more components of physical fitness (CDC US). These should be done with the purpose of improving physical fitness. For example, some may carry out their job-related or household physical activities with the aim of spending energy. Those activities are considered exercise (Carl J Caspersen and colleagues).

Light- moderate physical activities:

These activities include moderately-paced or leisurely walking or bicycling, slow swimming or dancing, and simple gardening (CDC).

Vigorous physical activities

These activities include fast walking, fast bicycling, jogging, strenuous swimming or sports, aerobic dance, or strenuous gardening (CDC)

Vigorous physical activities: These activities might include fast walking, fast bicycling, jogging, strenuous swimming or sports play, vigorous aerobic dance, or strenuous gardening. 

Strengthening activities:

These activities include strenuous muscular contractions such as weight lifting, resistance training, push-ups, sit-ups, etc (CDC).

Leisure-time physical activities; exercise, sports, or any other activity done during leisure time.

Types of physical fitness (exercise) training

(Saunders et al.(2016)
  • Heart-lung (cardio-respiratory) programs: to improve heart and lung fitness
  • Resistance training programs: to improve muscle strength and muscle power
  • Flexibility (stretching) training programs
  • Balance maintenance training programs
  • Mixed training programs: a combination of the above two types

Mode of training:

This refers to the methods employed for the type of training; for heart-lung training, it could be either walking, running, or cycling. It could be stationary too with or without an instrument/machine.

Dose of training:

The dose of training refers to the amount of training (the program length – number of weeks or months, duration of a session, and the intensity (amount of work or effort).

Exercise prescription:

This refers to a prescription that includes mode, type, and a dose of the exercise recommended.

Author: Prasantha De Silva

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