You exercise EVERYDAY?!?

For the second time in my life, I had someone questioning me about my level of physical activity – clearly concerned that I may be overexercising, addicted, etc. The first person to show concern was a gym manager (with whom I was good friends) – I was overexercising and addicted to the adrenaline associated with exercise. He had reason to be concerned. However, his concerned bothered me immensely because he did not go about it the right way. He unintentionally labeled me, telling me that I must have at least a mild case of body dysmorphia. His opinion bothered me a great deal – did not like the idea of him believing that I had a mental disorder.

With the more recent display of concern, my internal mental reaction was – shut up, you have no idea what you are talking about. Mean, perhaps, but that is why I did not say it out loud. I explained to her that I have found a healthy balance and what works for me. I took her concern and pocketed it, always wanting to be aware of whether or not I am in a healthy psychological relationship with health and fitness. I posted in January about my reaction to missing a scheduled workout and how I reacted in a more healthy way than I have in a very long time. I just let life happen. 230

Having to personally manage chronic joint pain – I know that I need to move more and sit less. I have learned through inactivity how much worse my pain is when I do not exercise. Exercising every day keeps my blood and synovial fluid pumping! Not to mention it is a natural antidepressant!

Is exercising every day too much?

When I tell individuals that I workout – to some degree – every day, their eyes get big, “EVERY day?” Yes, I do – the human body is designed to move. I feel better for doing so. The human body is not designed to sit all day – therefore I do exercises to counteract this sedentariness and to reduce the aches and pains that result from sitting. Personally, I have conditioned my body to function like a machine – needing to move and needing the fuel (real food) to move.

Think back to our ancestors – they exercised every day. Farmers, blacksmiths, butchers, and more. They did more walking. Mothers had a dozen children to chase after, they did laundry with a washboard, and they cooked everything from scratch. Our ancestors were active! With every invention of convenience and technology, we have become more sedentary. We even have less activity driving – with automatic transmissions versus manual – not requiring as much mental attention nor the physical use of the clutch and gear shift. While most of these activities do not equate to exercise – it is all activity. And all activity adds up. Some of our parents and grandparents tell the story about, “Walking up hill both ways to school.” (Sometimes in the snow without shoes.) I believe this is simply a dramatization of how much more active individuals were years ago. And they were much more active.

Exercise does not have to be a workout

I recommend to clients to workout 3-5 days a week but to be active every day. Be a body in motion! Now that running season is upon us here in the Midwest, my rest days are Fridays. I do not workout. But I do try to increase my other activities for the day. I park farther away. I take more stairs. Whatever opportunities the day brings to be active – I take them. I provide behavior therapy to a young boy who loves to chase and hide and seek. So we work – play – work – play.

I have mentioned before that not all exercise is a workout. This can be difficult to comprehend, particularly when trying to lose weight or improve fitness and the world is telling us all we need to do is be more active. There is a certain amount of truth to the need to be more active. However, more often than not, becoming more active without incorporating dietary changes is unlikely to yield results. And bare in mind that there is also an enormous amount of research out there showing that even if you workout every day, a sedentary lifestyle outside of the workout still has its health risks.

The bottomline

Get moving. The human body is designed to move! Overwhelmed by the idea of having to exercise everyday? How do you think our ancestors felt about just doing all the necessary daily activities?

With regard to the woman’s concern for my relationship with exercise, I brushed it off. Not everyone will understand – what works for me does may not work for you. And some individuals are not ready to hear the truth – and that is when I just smile and nod.

I am good at the smile and nod.

Is shoveling snow a workout?

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.

The bottomline

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?