What counts as exercise?

what counts as exercise

What counts as exercise is a question that often crops up when I talk about how often to be physically active. What counts as exercise? What doesn’t? What’s just getting on with daily life, what can be classed as a workout, and does it even matter?

I recorded a little video all about this question for you but if you prefer reading, skip on past the video for the usual written blog post.

First of all I’m not a qualified personal trainer, but since I’m talking about just generally being active I don’t think that matters so much! The basic level of movement that we all should be aiming for is 30 minutes of movement or activity a day. For me, I feel that’s really doable in this phase of life that I’m in, but again that raises the question: what counts as that exercise?

Defining exercise

For me, exercise is something that’s going to get you a bit hot and sweaty, something where you’re moving, where you’re not sat at your desk. It comes down to something that you’re doing specifically for exercise, to get physically active, something that’s going to increase your heart rate or work your muscles. That could be running, going to the gym, doing yoga, doing Pilates, doing strength training, hula-hooping – that’s one of my personal favourites! Walking is also great and definitely underrated as a form of exercise.

Getting some balance

There are obviously different kinds of intensities amongst those various forms of exercise. To be balanced though, it’s about having a mixture of these because if you’re doing loads of really hard, strenuous exercise, you’re going to be taxing your body quite a lot. By including some of the more gentle forms of exercise, you’re going to get all the benefits of things like stretching and muscle toning. But it isn’t a black and white thing. There’s a lot of information out there now about something called NEAT, which stands for non-exercise activity thermal genesis, which is the activity we do every day that’s not related to going and doing a workout. That’s what I’m really interested in as a mum with not a lot of time to go to the gym and do all the things I used to do. I’m really interested in activity and how I can be more active in my day to get more NEAT.

Setting a target

I know loads of you will have devices like Fitbits, Jawbone and the Apple watch. Those devices really are great as they do encourage more of that NEAT activity. Here we’re thinking about walking, gardening, stuff that’s more gentle but still movement. It’s really up to you to look at your lifestyle and say, what’s realistic for me? This is what I’ve done for myself so I’ll give you some examples. I’ve set myself the target of moving at least 30 minutes a day, which includes doing a proper workout. So this morning I was at the gym and I did 30 minutes of cardio on the machines, because that’s what I felt like doing. That’s another part that comes into this as well – listen to your body and what your body needs and what you want. But it can also count as going out on a Saturday and just walking around the town all day long. As long as I’m active for 30 minutes, I’m quite satisfied that I’m doing something that’s great for my body.

Being realistic

I need to look at whether I’m getting the balance. Is it balanced within my life? If I look back on a week and all of the activity I’ve done has really just been walking, I need to look at adding in some strength training or getting the kettle bell out in the conservatory and swinging it about a bit. Or I might look back and think actually, that was a really busy week with work, I had lots of projects on and Finley was being especially hard work, so if I look at it and think it’s been a full-on week but I’ve been out and walked 30 minutes a day, then that’s awesome. Look at what’s realistic for you and what’s going to fit in around your life.

Obviously if you can do a workout for at least 30 minutes, 5 times a week, then you are 100 percent winning. But you have to factor that into your life, check if it’s going to work for you and see how that’s going to fit in. If you can look at things like walking and anything that’s generally active too, then that’s great. I do think those activity monitors can be fantastic in terms of tracking your step count and having a target for that. But I’m sure I read somewhere (though I might be wrong on this) that the 10,000-steps things is actually just a figure that someone picked out of the air and doesn’t have any scientific backing. So if you’re not hitting 10,000 steps, it’s not the end of the world. Set your goal at something that you feel is going to push you, but that is still realistic.

Fitting it in

I knew I wasn’t going to get 10,000 steps in a day but I might be able to get a half-hour gym workout in and 5,000 steps. Look at your life, be sensible with it and figure out what you need and what your body needs, and what’s going to be balanced. Ultimately, anything where you’re not sitting on your arse, you’re moving so you want to try to include some of those bits of movement. You want it to be something that’s a bit more workout-y, whether that’s going out for a run, a really brisk walk, doing some yoga or doing some bodywork exercises. It can be any of those things and it doesn’t have to take forever if you can incorporate movement into your day, especially if you’re busy. If you’re a mum like me, take the little one out for a walk. I bought a jogging buggy, which I’ve used about a total of once but it’s there. I’ve got the option there if I want to go out for a jog and take Finley with me. Looking at your life and seeing what’s going to fit you is a really good way to look at it.

On the topic of fitting in workouts, if you check out The Balance Club and sign up for the VIP Wait List you will get a beautiful Tabata workout. If you’re not familiar with Tabata, it’s a form of high-intensity interval training and it’s only 20 minutes. It’s super simple to follow (although challenging in a good way!) and Laura from LC Personal Training has created it for The Balance Club. You don’t need any equipment, you just need the stopwatch on your phone and you’ll be away.

I hope that’s been helpful in clearing up some questions on what counts as exercise. It’s not black and white, any activity is activity but if you want to make sure you’re getting some exercise in, that’s when it’s useful to look at gym classes, running, yoga, etc. Make sure you have that lovely blend of different forms of movement that are going to be really good for your body and really good for your mind as well.

What’s your go-to exercise activity? Do you use an activity tracker?

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  • I jsut got my fitbit fixed so find that helpful as I work from home so it so easy to do little movement – but i am pretty chilled about it. Otherwise I use youtube all the time for workouts a mix of HIIIT, yoga and using my trampoline – I stopped my gym membership and am loving it – so much time saved!

  • I find setting a goal for myself keeps me motivated – training for a marathon for example helps motivate me to get my runs in and keep going to the gym to stave off injury. But having a dog is the biggest motivator to walk lots! There are no excuses I can use to not take him out!

  • I’ve been walking everywhere this summer to make the most of the nice weather and save the money and squish of the tube – most days I’ve walked 20,000 steps! I haven’t felt in the mood for sweaty cardio classes or running in the heat but tracking steps on my phone reminds me that just because I’m not in the gym it doesn’t mean I’m being a couch potato! Once it starts pouring with rain again I’ll definitely be back at spin classes – definitely agree its about balance, variety and doing what your body needs! x

  • Maria B

    I like counting my steps, because I can end up sat at a desk for a long time, and I think moving more in the day is better than sitting around and then doing one workout . I like tracking my formal exercise on strava as it tracks runs but you can also add cross training too and it shows you a month, week or year overview so you can see patterns. Like you say, some weeks other things take priority so seeing a week or month is better than worrying about a few missed days.

  • Jade

    Great post. I work with electric bikes http://www.a2bshop.com/ (our site) and the one thing I love about them is that they encourage riders of all ages and fitness levels to begin getting active. As you mentioned above I think fitting in exercise is key. Most of us including myself complain about not having enough time to exercise, so we give up completely, when actually every little helps. Really insightful thoughts and helpful ideas!

  • I love doing yoga and other home workouts and I love jogging.Exercise is the best way to keep yourself fit and healthy, it increased my self-motivation.I hit my gym after my home workouts I do intense workouts
    like weightlifting, incline press decline press.