The other day I was going over a list of the different things I do to be “active,” like weight training, hot yoga, Iyengar yoga, some time on bike, and, I added, sometimes I go for a walk. The person I was talking to said, “walking doesn’t count unless you’re really out of shape and just starting out.”
At the other extreme is what I heard when I used to attend Weight Watchers (yes, I too had my stints and am even a lifetime member–that just means that at least once I managed to reach “goal” and stay there for at least six weeks). Of course, they are wild about tracking at Weight Watchers, and you record points for food AND for activity.
And we were told to count everything from yard work to washing windows. Yes, running and swimming and cycling still counted, but if you were moving at all in a way that you normally wouldn’t, then it counted as activity and you could record points for it.
Now, I don’t track as a rule anyway, but I do have an idea in my head of a minimum amount of activity I’d like to do in a day. Roughly, I like to do at least one weight training or yoga session and at least one cardio type activity like running, riding my bike, spending a bit of time on the elliptical machine (that’s only in a pinch, in bad weather, or when I am into a really good book that I can’t put down–I read War and Peace one summer on a stationary bicycle at the Y).
But what about when I walk to the market and back (that’s a good 30 minutes), or even more, when I walk to work and back (that’s more like 70-80 minutes round trip)? It certainly tires me out, so if feels like it should “count.”
But when I use this kind of thing to replace an actual “session,” I feel like I’m cheating or getting away with something. For example, when I use the bike for commuting, I am sometimes hesitant to count it enough to replace an actual dedicated cardio session (even when endomondo tells me I’ve burned some extraordinary number of calories given the amount of enjoyment I got out of it!).
At WW, the number of activity points you could earn for an activity varied depending on the intensity with which you did the activity. So the more you exerted yourself and worked up a sweat, the more points you could earn for the time you spent doing that activity. This makes some sense.
But that brings me back to gardening. I’m sorry, but no matter how much I was urged to count stuff like that and no matter how much of a sweat I might work up out in the garden, it just doesn’t feel like it counts. Maybe it’s part of an active lifestyle, but it’s not what I think of as a workout. As an aside, I should add that I enjoy everything I do as a “workout” activity a lot more than I ever liked gardening.
I’m sure there is a middle ground between “everything counts” and “it only counts if it’s a dedicated ‘fitness’ activity.” And I think it’s incredibly important to do things that I love and not to do things where my only reason for doing them is the contribution they might make to my fitness.
Maybe a good basic guideline for what counts is that it counts if it involves physical exertion, it’s not something that you always do (for example, if I walk to work every day, then it isn’t going to count because it’s not extra), it gets your heart rate up, you work up a sweat, and also I think you have to do it for a sustained period of time.
I guess that doesn’t rule out gardening, and maybe it ends up ruling out other things that should count. But as a basic set of guidelines, it’s not a bad starting point.