As a fitness fanatic, I feel guilty not doing pilates, lifting weights or cardio workouts in the summer. Instead, I spend all day, every day, physically active: gardening, cycling, walking, and doing home renovations. To decide if I’m getting enough exercise or fooling myself into fun summer pursuits, I’ve sought some data-backed advice.
Three sources1 recommend adults do 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Some strength training should be included, or added.
This seems silly for a person with an active lifestyle, as it works out to just over 20 minutes a day. As long as I get out of bed, this happens, walking to the post office, cleaning the bathrooms, mowing the lawn or other miscellaneous activity.
In the depths of winter, I aim for either a moderate cardio workout (usually brisk walking for 50+ minutes) 2-3 days a week, strength training 40 to 55 minutes (pilates or weight lifting) 2-3 days a week, and one day cleaning the house (which happens in the summer too)2.
Something isn’t adding up with these numbers. My one day, weekly cleaning gets me to 180 minutes of moderate activity. I can’t imagine that anyone who did 3 hours of exercise once every 7 days would be getting enough exercise, or be fit or healthy. Maybe cleaning doesn’t count as moderate activity.
According to the Mayo Clinic3, the key to determining if the activity qualifies as moderate exercise is whether it gets the heart rate up (details to make the calculation are here ). A few sources4 qualify typical exercises as light, moderate and vigourous. For walking, cleaning, gardening and cycling, it depends how fast or the exact type of activity (e.g. raking leaves is moderate but pulling a few weeds is light).
This makes more sense. So, some of my summertime activity is moderate, and fulfills the weekly exercise requirement. I don’t need more cardio, but need to be sure I’m getting all the right kinds of exercise.
Especially for older adults, exercise is involved in:
- burning calories to balancing food intake to maintain a healthy weight,
- building strength and general fitness that make it possible to do physical things, like carry the vacuum up the stairs or dance all night,
- improving personal appearance, aside from healthy weight and muscle tone. I find my skin looks better when I’ve been outside, gardening or cycling or walking,
- maintaining flexibility, balance and other adaptibility things young people take for granted when putting on socks, riding the subway or catching a falling phone before it hits the ground,
- safeguarding mental health – evidence links exercise to mental health. When I sense myself on the verge of descending into a chasm of negativity, it’s astonishing how well a good hour of fast walking, lifting weights or chopping wood reverses the trend,
- avoiding injury. I’m less likely to hurt my back when my core is strong, and don’t strain muscles when they’re strong enough to handle the next DIY project I undertake,
- recovery from injury. It’s counterintuitive, but over the past 15 years I’ve learned that when my body hurts, I should move, rather than sit still to recover. With every trip to the physiotherapist for strains, I come home with prescribed exercises for recovery.
With all this in mind, what else is needed other than active living for fitness? Regular activities that build strength include5 digging and shovelling (snow or dirt), climbing stairs or hills, cycling, dancing, carrying groceries. Maintaining or developing flexibility and balance are important for preventing injury, recovering from injury, and being able to keep going. Interestingly, these are hard to achieve without formal programs like yoga, pilates, stretches, or targeted exercises, like standing on one foot.
Ah-ha, so my summer pursuits won’t substitute to develop flexibility.
This resonates with how I feel. I am active well beyond the minimal requirements during the summer, but can feel the heavy work I do putting a strain on my body. Programs that build core strength and flexibility help to balance any punishment my enthusiastic everyday activities wreck on my joints. Joint stress is another topic.
Tomorrow, I’m going to do a little yoga to balance today’s long bike ride.
1The Canadian Government https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/physical-activity-tips-adults-18-64-years.html , The Heart and Stroke Foundation https://www.heartandstroke.ca/healthy-living/stay-active/how-much-physical-activity-do-you-need , and The Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/exercise/faq-20057916
2 Is this really moderate activity? It involves going up and down the 2 flights of stairs about 20 times, sometimes carrying a vacuum cleaner, laundry hamper, or load of wood, and bending down and getting up to load the washer, clean the tub, scrub the floor, make the bed etc.
4Harvard, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/moderate-and-vigorous-physical-activity/ The Heart and Stroke Foundation https://www.heartandstroke.ca/healthy-living/stay-active/how-much-physical-activity-do-you-need , The Cleveland Clinic https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-does-moderate-exercise-mean-anyway/
5 According to the UK’s National Health Service, https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/strength-and-flexibility-exercises/how-to-improve-strength-flexibility/ , The US National Institute on Aging https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/four-types-exercise-can-improve-your-health-and-physical-ability ,