Activity or Exercise? Do you know the difference?

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Exercise is the key to staying healthy.  Studies show that exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle because it reduces heart disease, cancer, depression, stroke and dementia to name just a few.  However, I find that most people do not know what exercise really is.  All too often they confuse it with activity.  Exercise and activity are cousins, but they are not the same thing.

In all of my new patient appointments I ask each person about their exercise habits.  Some people truly exercise, but the vast majority get no regular exercise. Still others think they exercise when in fact they are just active.  What’s the difference?

First, let me say that being active is without a doubt better than being a couch potato. However, it does not substitute for regular exercise.

So what exactly do I mean? Doesn’t being active mean I exercise? Not necessarily.

Here are the two scenarios I hear in my office the most.

The first is the busy mother of a small child.  Routinely they tell me, “I don’t need to exercise, I chase my small child around all day and pick him up and put him down.  That’s plenty of exercise.” Unfortunately that’s incorrect.  This person is active, but does not exercise and cannot possibly gain the benefits of exercise by looking after a small child.  Unless this mother is repeatedly picking up and putting down their child and squatting down over and over in a short period of time to do so and their heart rate is significantly elevated while doing so, they are not exercising.

Now, I understand that caring for a small child is tiring, but so is sitting at the library and doing research. Activities that make us tired do not always qualify as exercise.

The second scenario I hear most often in response to my question of exercise habits is actually one of two things; people will say, “I walk a few times per week,” or “I like to garden on the weekend.” Both of these again, are activities.  Very few people walk fast enough or the distances required for walking to be considered exercise.  I have one patient in particular who actually does walk far and fast enough for it to be exercise, but that’s a rarity.  Gardening will never be considered exercise.  Again, it may be tiring but two things disqualify it as exercise.  First, it does not increase the heart rate enough and second it is not done with enough regularity to be exercise.

Again, I want to stress that being active is a great start and is far superior to sitting on the couch and watching television.  But it’s just that – a start.

Exercise is something that drives heart rate, builds muscle and changes body composition. It should be done with regularity – at least 3 times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes.

I would ask you to consider this question; If you are a person who falls into one of the above scenarios and believe your lifestyle creates an environment in which you do not need to exercise because you are active consider this.

Are you happy with the results?

Are you tired and/or overweight despite chasing your small child around all day or gardening on the weekend?

If you answered no to the first question and yes to the second you should consider changing your point of view on what you consider exercise.

Remember, activity is a good thing. However, it is not exercise and cannot be used as a substitute.  I would encourage you to make time to exercise even if you are busy and active.  It will only help you in the end.

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