We have seen quite a bit of snow in the United States in the last few days. Big snow out East – burying cars and closing down full states. Here in Minnesota, we had maybe 6 inches already today and there is more to come. All this snow requires snow removal – arms and hands, shovels, brooms, and snow blowers. You bundle up to go to work – you come back inside huffing and puffing and a bit sweaty. You feel, “I got my workout in for today.” Snow removal – of any and all forms – is physical activity, but NOT a workout nor exercise. You see, all exercise is physical activity, but not all physical activity is exercise.
Part of the problem with today’s culture is that we falsely promote any physical activity as exercise or equivalent to working out. Similar to shoveling, walking is not a workout either. These are physical activities and best classified as ADLs (i.e., active daily living). NOTE: When individuals are sedentary, they must increase physical activity slowly and progressively. If someone is severely deconditioned, a walk may be a workout. However, these individuals progress quickly and a walk as a workout will not last long. And while you will burn more calories by increasing your ADLs than when doing nothing at all, without workouts, health and fitness improvements will be minimal to nonexistent.
What makes a workout?
Your workout should be more strenuous than shoveling snow – and no, I do not care how heavy the snow is or how long your driveway is. To obtain benefits, you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone. During a workout you should reach or exceed your maximum heart rate (although not stay there for too long).
A workout requires exercise. Unfortunately, exercise is not well defined. The common definition of exercise is, “activity requiring physical effort carried out, especially to sustain or improve physical fitness.” This is a vague definition that, in essence, has misclassified a myriad of human physical activities as exercise. In today’s mindset, almost anything can be termed exercise from walking, to playing a video game, to sex, to board games and beyond, including climbing Mount Everest.
One of the best scientific definitions of exercise comes from Ken Hutchins:
Exercise is a process whereby the body performs work of a demanding nature, in accordance with muscle and joint function, in a clinically-controlled environment, within the constraints of safety, meaningfully loading the muscular structures to inroad their strength levels to stimulate a growth mechanism within minimum time.
I think of it this way, shoveling snow (or other means of removal) is a maintenance activity. If you are in a maintenance phase of your health, weight, and fitness, you can consider a long day of shoveling your workout and the world will not end. If you are on a journey to improve your health, weight, and fitness – shoveling CANNOT replace your workout. They are not equal nor synonymous. One day of shoveling and skipping your workout – the world will not end. But do NOT make a habit out of it. Do not use food as a compensatory reward, telling yourself that you worked for it – you will only be sadly disappointed when you are not pleased with your end result – after you thought you had worked so hard.
Finally, shoveling snow is not always easy. It burns calories. So does playing Twister or pattycake – are those workouts?