advice · fitness · motivation

How many minutes? How many workouts? So many numbers!

There’s an obsession in the fitness world with measuring and counting. Not just sets and reps and weight lifted, but also how many minutes, how many days, for how many years’ benefit.

And on the one hand, I sort of get it. I blogged 7 years ago (!) about being a data geek and it’s still true. I track heart rate and speed and distance ridden on my bike. I know my watts, watts per kilo, and number of metres I’ve climbed so far in 2020.

But, on the other hand, it feels like numbers have kind of taken over, not just in the area of sports performance (where I think they mostly belong) but in the realm of everyday exercise and health benefits. I understand the science side of this. The studies make sense to me. What makes less sense is the way the media shares these stories in a way that suggests a close tie between the study results and our behavior.

Readers, I’m guilty of this too. I share a lot of ‘health benefits of exercise’ stories over on our Facebook page and on Twitter.

And just the other day these were the headlines:

11 Minutes of Exercise a Day May Help Counter the Effects of Sitting

but also, The sweet spot for physical activity and longevity seemed to arrive at about 35 minutes a day of brisk walking or other moderate activities.

How about some larger numbers?

To Lose Weight With Exercise, Aim for 300 Minutes a Week (That’s about 43 minutes a day in case you were trying to keep track.) There’s a lot that’s problematic with that story. I’m not going to get into it here but let’s just start by noting that exercising for weight loss is neither particularly effective nor motivational.)

Also, A Single Session of Exercise Alters 9,815 Molecules in Our Blood

How about some smaller numbers? Fast fitness: How four second workouts can keep you in shape during lockdown or The 4-Second Workout – The New York Times. (Cate experimented with short bursts of movement throughout the day and blogged about it here.)

You could try to figure the exact right number of minutes of exercise that’s good for meeting your goals. Is it 11? Or 35? Or 43?

Should it come in one big chuck or in bite size 4 second pieces?

Or you could relax a bit and think, all movement is good. Everything counts. And move in ways that bring you joy.

As I said, at the outset this isn’t my natural temperament, my go to disposition. I do a lot of physio that isn’t joyful at all. I’ve stopped saying, if you don’t love it, don’t do it. It’s okay to hate exercise and just do it for the health benefits.

But most of the time, for most us, even analytically minded me, I think simple messages are better.

I’d also like us to take broader lens. Not everything we care about is easily measured. We can count years lived and pounds lost but the mental health benefits of movement are harder to measure but no less important.

Get outside! Play! All movement is good! Find a way of moving that’s joyful for you! Bring friends along and build community!

I don’t care if abs are made in the kitchen and not the gym.

Now this, this is something I care about: Where are the smiles made?

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