Sunday, July 25, 2010

What "Counts" as Exercise?

I am often asked to settle disputes if some activity “counts” as exercise. I get the same question during my initial consultations with clients. In order to best answer the question, I ask a few questions myself. For example, are they trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle? Walk their dog twice a day around the block? Get in their 10,000 steps per day? Lose weight? As you can see, it’s not quite as simple as you might think. For the purposes of this blog entry, I’m going to narrow down the focus and address what “counts” as cardiovascular exercise for weight loss. There are factors to consider when evaluating a cardiovascular exercise, such as heart rate, intensity and duration.

First, let’s look at heart rate. Everyone has a target heart rate zone, which for most people is typically approximately 130-160 beats per minute. When this maintained for over 20 minutes, then fat burning will take place. During the first 20 minutes of exercise in this zone, sugars are being used for energy. The energy cycle will begin using fat as an energy source after that. I highly encourage all my clients and even acquaintances looking to lose weight to purchase a heart rate monitor. This way you know where your heart rate is in relation to where it needs to be. This is also valuable if you are over exerting above your maximum target heart rate – when you exceed this number, you may become light headed, dizzy or nauseous.

Next is intensity, or how hard you are working. Let’s looks at a 30 minute walk on a flat surface, like the track around Wash Park. You would need to be really moving, possibly jogging, to maintain that target heart rate zone. Now, let’s look at that same 30 minutes climbing the stairs at Red Rocks. Quite a bit tougher with the incline and you’ll be able to more easily maintain your heart rate at a higher level. For a test, try it out on the treadmill or other cardio equipment at the gym. Go for five minutes at a zero incline, and then crank it up to a 8% incline for five minutes. Continue until you reach the 30 minute mark. You’ll see a huge difference.

Finally, duration, or how long is this particular bout of exercise. As you can see from the heart rate issue, you need to be moving for at least 20 minutes, so anything below that is not going to burn any fat. Typically, I advise my clients, depending on their goals and ability, to participate in 30-40 minutes of cardio for most days that they don’t train with me. In this case, cardiovascular exercise is defined as some activity in their target heart rate zone.

So I hope I’ve been able to settle the score for some discussions. All this said, any time you are moving and not sitting still is a path to a healthy lifestyle. So get moving!