fitness

More than six years later and Tracy has the same questions about “what counts”


Image description: left foot with a red boot on a snowy sidewalk.

A lot has changed since Sam and I embarked on our Fittest by 50 Challenge more than six years ago. I was saying to a friend just yesterday that my entire self-conception has changed in ways I couldn’t have predicted. I now consider myself a pretty fit, quite active woman in mid-life.

I’m not striving to attain some ideal of physical fitness anymore. I feel as if, as far as my day to day level of fitness is concerned, I’m there. I feel strong and have a good level of cardio fitness as well. My balance is great and my flexibility, while by no means my greatest asset, is good enough for me and gets me through my yoga class with my dignity intact.

But one thing that hasn’t change at all is my sense that some purposeful activity simply doesn’t “count.” I wrote a blog post called “What ‘Counts’?” back in September 2012. At the time, I sometimes walked to work. And I kind of counted it. But mostly it just made me feel like I was cheating.

I said in 2012: “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!).”

Well this year I’m finally jumping on the 219 in 2019 bandwagon — 219 workouts in 2019, if you’re not sure what that bandwagon is. The idea is that any purposeful movement counts as a workout. Like yesterday. I walked to and from work — now a 9K round trip (quite a bit further than my 2012 walk to work used to be, and I even wanted to count that). I usually drive. It was snowing and icy, adding some extra work to the deal. It takes me about 50 minutes each way. And I worked up a sweat in both directions.

So I counted it–I actually counted the entire commute as one workout, even though really I could have probably called it TWO since I could’ve easily taken the bus home but didn’t. The thing is, I was actually supposed to run yesterday. But it was too windy and snowy and blowy and I was too tired to contemplate that. So I posted on our 219 in 2019 Facebook page about my walking commute, with some tone of apology or defensiveness. Not because others questioned it, but because I questioned it. Which makes no sense, because it was purposeful movement.

I queried about that on the FB, and Cate jumped in with her thought that if it’s not something I ordinarily do, then it counts. So in the summer, when I walk to work every day, it shouldn’t count. But what if I walk to work precisely because it is an exerting thing to do, specifically for the movement, entirely because it increases my steps? In some ways, sticking to it daily makes it seem like a thing that should count.

Consider, for example, if I commit to running every day for 30 days. This is a planI have considered yet never executed. I don’t feel bad that I have never executed that plan. And I feel strongly that if I did commit to that, each and every one of those runs should count even if I’m doing it every day. Let’s say I extended that commitment to a year. A year in which daily running (or yoga, or swimming, or …. walking) becomes a part of my life. Routine. Then does it count? Something makes me want to say yes.

Which brings me to the view that if these challenges are meant to get us moving, then whatever gets us moving counts.

Sam has considered what counts. So has Catherine. See their posts here and here, respectively. And Cate has considered what counts (here) and reflected on it in the context of her challenge to work out every day last July (here).

And we’ve asked this before but I’ll ask again — what do you think counts?

12 thoughts on “More than six years later and Tracy has the same questions about “what counts”

  1. I’m going to admit that the discussions of what ‘counts’ have reminded me of the diet meetings I attended a decade ago. Almost as if we are searching for reasons to beat ourselves up for cheating instead of taking the opportunities large and small to celebrate using and moving our bodies.

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    1. You know, I reflected quite similarly this morning and I agree with you. Who are these imaginary gate-keepers that live in our heads and why internalize negative messaging about doing loving things for ourselves. This is the risk (always) for me when I take up these challenges. Thank you for your comment.

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  2. My job and lifestyle is inherently sedentary. I have to put effort in to make sure I move throughout the day. I think any sustained activity should be counted, simply because it’s not naturally a part of my daily life.

    Your walk should count, even if it’s something you do every day when the weather is nice, because you have the option to not do it and drive/ride instead. Maybe as a runner you don’t think it’s “enough,” but walking is still a very good activity for maintaining physical health, and one you’ll (hopefully) be able to maintain when your body has hit the running limits.

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  3. Aw man, I joined the 219 in 2019 challenge for the first time this year, and I’m glad I’m not the only one still debating that question. When I decided to join, I must have been high on my yoga mini-streak from December, which worked super well – because this is already stressing me out. I’ve had a cold for the past few days, and before that I was on holiday, which was not conducive to working out. So now I’m only on workout #4… I think, and I feel like I’m way behind already! And that’s where the “what counts?” question comes in. I’m still on the fence about whether my super short morning mini-workouts count. I usually do 10-15 minutes of yoga or some sort of strength exercise (arms or core normally) in the mornings, there’s no time for more (I need my beauty sleep). Does that count? I mean, I normally break a sweat and sometimes I’m even sore the day after arms day or core day. So I think it does count – it just doesn’t feel like it “should” because it’s so little. I counted my yoga this morning and I think I’ll see how it goes. Maybe if I do really well on my other workouts I’ll stop counting these mini-sessions later in the year.

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  4. Friends, read this:

    https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/jan/03/why-exercise-alone-wont-save-us

    It’s wonderful. And a reminder that our obsession with “fitness” and “exercise” is totally counterintuitive to what we, as human beings, have known for centuries as physical activity in support of wellness – constant, regular movement throughout the day. (On the blog we’re big on this, of course – but it really bears constant repeating!)

    Tracy, I know your commute – I did it on Tuesday in fact! I’m taking the train to London each Tuesday this term, and instead of paying for uber or the bus on nice days I’m walking. I walked from the train to campus (50 minutes), from campus to our personal trainer (65 minutes), and then on to the train again (30 minutes). That was about 14km total. I felt it in my shins, TBH, and the next day that walking plus the hour with Paul meant I needed a rest day and just took it because, hell, what a lot of exertion!

    Paul and I talked about walking as exercise while I did my session, and while he (thinking like a trainer, of course, and that’s fine) pointed out it’s not really cardio or strength or whatever, I disagree. I walk quickly and was exerting myself; I was also moving my whole body, breathing the fresh air, and using the opportunity to reflect on my journey, my day ahead/behind, etc. Holistically, the walk was probably more beneficial to me than the weights workout – it was low-level aerobic at least part of the time, it had the benefits of reflection I derive from yoga, and there was built in breath work too.

    Not only does your commute “count”, as far as I’m concerned, but it’d be worth you taking stock of the many different benefits you gain from it. Not just steps. Not just a bit of a sweat. The whole thing.

    Seriously – read the Guardian piece. And thanks for this!

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  5. One of my favorite expressions on this blog is, “You do you.” It seems to me that if you think it counts, it counts. It is not really possible to fool yourself, to cheat yourself, right? I mean, who do we think we’re fooling if we try out those old, tired rationalizations on ourselves? So if what you want is a workout that breaks a sweat, and you do a walk/run/toddler chase/bike ride/anything you think of that causes you to break a sweat, seems to me it counts. It can easily differ from person to person, from season to season, from day to day. I used to think walking was great exercise, then I got into great shape & do quite a bit of movement I never dreamed of before. Now,for my walk to be more than a recovery day, it has to have a little extra edge to it. Maybe it’s steep; maybe it’s really long; or maybe I’m just getting back after a cold & need to regain energy. (And that’s all about cardio. There’s also yoga, strength training, dance…) But the point is, these challenges are only about giving ourselves a sense of shared community, plus a system of markers we think make sense for us individually. It’s not about prizes or public recognition, nothing one could “cheat” to get. No general rules, no comparison to how others define a workout, or lists of what counts.

    If it felt like it should count, it counted.

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  6. I’m not sure if I really “count”.
    I guess the best way for me about whether or not I count my 15 km. bike ride to and from market today to do grocery shopping. It’s more how mobile I am. That “counts”. Even moving around at home, to do stuff, I’m grateful. After all, I had a concussion several years ago, that I had to learn to walk all over again without getting dizzy. I couldn’t even do housework for a few wks. because I got dizzy. I eventually did climb onto the bike again after 5 months.

    In my early 20’s, I worked in a medical library for an adult rehabilitation hospital for the spinal cord injured in Toronto. People who became permanently paralyzed for life in wheelchairs. I cannot even begin to emphasize that our full 4 limb mobility counts!!!! This early career exposure..its my motivator to walk or bike daily to do stuff…..hopefully for a long time in life.

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