What is exercise?

Many of us wonder: what is exercise? Does a walk with a friend count as exercise or not?  According to the dictionary - exercise is: "activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness." In previous generations we didn't need 'exercise' because we were already active at our jobsor our every day lives.   But our daily levels of exercise has declined since we got TV and computers.  Now we take escalators instead of stairs, we have moving sidewalks at airports so we can ride instead of walk and there are even some golf courses where you have to drive a golf cart. I remember growing up - our clothes were washed by hand - nowadays we just throw it in the machine.  We have so many conveniences that rob us of moving as a natural part of our day.  Just our every day lifestyles used to provide us with enough activity to be healthy.   We have become increasingly sedentary.  My grandfather who lived to the ripe old age of 101, was still pushing a roto-tiller at the age of 80!

There’s a prevailing mindset that only aerobic exercise counts. What then is aerobic exercise? The word aerobic refers to oxygen and this use of it 'to meet energy demands'.  Another term for it that you often hear is 'having a cardio workout' - in other words, one that works your heart.  It's that low to high intensity workout where you keep your heart rate at an elevated level for a period of time.  

You need only open a few magazines,  listen to the talk around gyms and it’s easy to get the idea that you might as well not waste your time doing any exercise if it isn’t aerobic. 

And of course, some pundits say that not only does your heartbeat need to be at 65% of it's maximum to burn fat or 80% to be aerobic but it apparently has to be sustained for a certain length of time for it to supposedly count at all. That's their definition of exercise.

And just like everything else that has controversial views – the amount of time you have to exercise and how many times a week you need to…. Well it’s a bit like the ‘butter is bad for you’, ‘margarine is good’….. um er no…. actually the latest research says that ‘margarine is bad for you and butter is good’ debate.

What is Exercise - the research

Any number of ‘experts’ disagree on the duration and frequency that make up what is exercise and can show you research to apparently back up their viewpoint. So let me join the ranks and show you some research that sounded like it made sense to me.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine told one group of participants to do one 30-minute aerobic exercise session per day, the other was told to do 3x 10-minute sessions of exercise per day. 

Compared to the 30-minute aerobic group, the 3x 10 minute-session group:

• averaged 12-14 minute sessions,
• they exercised more often 
• and sustained it over longer periods.

The reason? The 3x10 minute group found it:
• easier to fit exercise into their schedules breaking their day by exercising in the morning, midday and evening.
• And had many more opportunities to feel good about themselves for having accomplished their goal. 

The group who were asked to do one long block of exercise sometimes struggled with the motivation to do it and found that if they could not find the time to do the required 30 minutes, they landed up doing no exercise at all. 

Moral of the story: What is exercise for you? And my question before you can answer that question would be: what works best for you – bigger blocks of time spent exercising or shorter? What would fit into your lifestyle easiest? Because any exercise program that you have to change your whole life so as to fit it in is almost sure to fail.

And here’s my view on what is exercise. Actually, every single bit of movement – even wiggling- counts.Did you know that a real wriggler can burn up to 700 calories in a day?  

When we were children.....

You see when we were children, we didn’t bother about the why’s and hows of what is exercise. We didn't think of the benefits of exercise, or that it helps our immune system.  And here's another thought - apparently by the age of 2, the average toddler has walked 93 miles already! (And remember they weren't walking for quite a bit of this time)

We didn’t worry about whether it was aerobic exercise or anaerobic – we just ran and swam and climbed trees and stayed fit and healthy. We didn’t say: “Oh, I’ve got to play ‘Touch’ of ‘Hopscotch’ or skip for 30 minutes a day and keep my heartbeat at x ….We didn't wear heart monitors, or fittest or tracking devices.  

We weren’t one bit bothered by all that – we just had fun playing. We never thought to wonder about 'what is exercise.'

I once heard about research they’d done where they pitted Olympic athletes (a marathon runner, middle distance runner and a sprinter) against toddlers. The trained athletes had to copy every single move the toddlers made. Apparently after 2 hours the Olympians were exhausted but the toddlers were still happily toddling.

We all used to be that active, naturally. Meantime to believe some of what we read, you’d have thought that toddlers just bumbling around the way toddlers do might not exactly fit into the ‘what is exercise’ equation. 

But they have amazing little metabolisms without worrying about whether their activity levels are stop-start (which isn’t aerobic) count. Food is hardly in the one end than it comes streaming out the other in a never ending stream of stinky nappies.

But...but aerobic exercise IS what counts

Now before I’m shot down as been some kind of moron who simply doesn’t understand the true value and benefits of exercise– let me say that if you want to get into peak performance and be an athlete and measure every bit of your exercise regime with fitbits and other monitors – that’s fabulous. Go for it. 

I’M NOT SAYING AEROBIC EXERCISE IS BAD. I’m just saying that aerobics is not the only factor that counts when it comes to what is exercise. It's also not the only way to stay fit rather than fat. As far as I'm concerned, when you understand quantum energy,  enjoyment, laughter and fun are every bit as important to your health as a workout.

I’m talking about Mr and Ms Average here who, if they were able to forget about all the prescriptions about what is exercise and what isn’t, or who knew that you didn't have to go to a gym to be fit and healthy could be having a lot more exercise fun.

If they forgot that there is supposedly a ‘right way’ or a ‘wrong way’ and just got out and enjoyed themselves being active without worrying about whether:

• what they are doing is exercise or not. 
• their heartbeat is high enough or not?  
• they are doing it often enough?

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