3 min read

The Definition of Exercise

The Bahamas 2009

Is this exercising or just enjoying the scenery?

‘Park further away from the office and walk 10 m further everyday’

‘Gardening and other activities of daily living = exercise’ 

Is this really the solution to our obesity problem?

I want to say ‘yes,’ but I’m inclined to say ‘no.’

Government recommendations seem to be the theme I’m running with this week, so I’ve got a little confession to make:

I never tell people in any of my initial consults that they should be doing this stuff.


Because I know it won’t help anyone make any kind of real change. At least not the kind of change people are looking for by the time they see me.

Before you say, ‘how pessimistic of me,’ let me defend my point of view.

Yes, these will provide a little bit of extra work each day in a good way.

Yes, I believe these can help someone who is already really exercising get a little more out of their lives.

Yes, I have a firm belief in the mantra that ‘something is always better than nothing.’

I would never tell anyone not to do that little bit extra.

The big BUT…is…

All of those things are just a part of leading an ‘active’ lifestyle.

This is just me going on a stroll in the Bahamas a couple of years back, enjoyable yes, but hardly exercise.

These are mostly things people should already be doing as part of life.

We refer to these in the health promotion field as “Activities of Daily Living” (ADL’s).

These are the little things that make little difference in the grand scheme of things, especially when it comes to weight loss.

They may help with weight maintenance but lets be honest with ourselves; these are things that everyone should already be doing and not just doing when they want to lose weight.

For some people, incorporating activities of daily living is perhaps a small but good behavior modification to make.

However, let’s face it, purposefully parking far away and walking for weight loss, is kind of silly right?

I do not consider these great exercise options, I sometimes wonder that by making these recommendations if we are not in fact giving people false hope.

I’ve heard it many times, ‘I exercise every day, I walk to work.

Or perhaps, ‘I exercise every day, I take the stairs to the 6th floor in my building.

Are we simply using activities like this to justify to ourselves that we are more active than we actually are?

This might be true, in fact I’ve read a half dozen articles recently on how the majority of people over-report on just how active they really are.

I think to a certain extent little things like this make us feel great about ourselves, which is not necessarily a bad thing but becomes so when we use it to skip actual exercise to achieve a healthy weight.

Nutrition not with-standing, — and it usually is the bigger problem for most — we need to do something that creates real adaptation in the body.

I encourage you to find a passion that gets your heart rate up and makes you feel worked, and if you no longer feel like that, it is time to take it to the next level.

The actual definition of exercise?

“Activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness.”


“An activity carried out for a specific purpose.”

Let’s look at that first definition. If you knew nothing else about me except this photo, you may assume I got my chiselled (read: lanky) frame from walking.

Does walking really require real physical effort for most people?

For some it may and in that case, it’s completely justified for weight-loss, but otherwise we need to be constantly aware of progressions that require new physical effort.

I fear we cannot sustain or improve health and fitness, and reverse the trend of obesity through walking alone.

This means that walking around the block at the same pace does not meet the first criteria after a period of adaptation has occurred and walking, no longer is considered physical effort.

The second aspect of that definition is that the activity is carried out for a specific purpose. If you are exercising with weight-loss as the purpose, then does walking or gardening, unchallenging if they may be, really meet this criteria either?

At the end of the day, we all thrive on some kind of intensity (be it emotional, intellectual or physical), please find yours. If you need help getting started just ask.