One of the most misunderstood and possibly most destructive influences in the health and fitness field today is the failure to understand the difference between various physical activities such as work, manual labor, sports, play, and general activities of daily living on the one hand, and real exercise on the other. A failure to draw a distinction between these very different activities will directly or indirectly impede an individual’s progress toward optimum health and fitness and may needlessly predispose one to injury.
At the heart of the problem is the misconstrued notion that any and every activity that involves “movement” qualifies as exercise. Or, if you perform an activitiy that just so happens to elevate your heart rate or breathing rate, or makes you sweat, that this too qualifies as exercise. As a result, many people now mistakenly believe activities such as: mowing the lawn, walking the dog, cleaning the house, playing with the kids, walking, playing golf, tennis, or any other sport, and even taking the stairs instead of the elevator, constitutes exercise. These notions could not be further from the truth, nor more damaging to the quality of your exercise program.
I’m not merely talking semantics here and complaining about what name we happen to affix to various activities. Rather, the issue is much more insidious and damaging. At stake is the health, well-being, and physical condition of all human beings. Realize, that all the health and fitness benefits and positive physical changes attainable through exercise are in reality adaptations produced by the body in response to a stress or stimulus. The body will not produce an adaptation unless and until it has been exposed to a stimulus of sufficient quality and quantity. In simple terms, this means that if you don’t give the body what it requires to produce the physical changes desired, then no changes will be forthcoming, and the status quo will remain.
Exercise places a form of physical stress upon the body. The body perceives the stress of exercise as a threat, and as the body is designed to do, will respond by producing an adaptation that will serve as protection from this threat or stress. In a nutshell, when the body becomes challenged by the demands of physical exercise, the body adapts by increasing strength, endurance, and overall physical condition. In order for an adaptation to occur, the demands placed on the body must be high enough that the body’s physical and metabolic status quo is challenged. A threshold must be reached where the body recognizes that its current condition and capabilites are inadequate to meet the challenge. Unless this threhold is crossed, the body sees no reason to change from its current state.
General physical activity, manual labor, recreational activities, and various household chores are ineffective in providing the necessary stimulus required by the body for the production of significant physical improvements and benefits. These activities are not sufficiently physically challenging and do not creat demands that rise to the necessary threshold. They simply fail to meet the requirements. Therefore, the desired adaptations will not occur in response to these activities.
This is not to say that general physical activities, work, and play offer no benefit at all. They do. It’s just that the benefits possible are rather limited and of a low level as compared to what exercise can do. For example, you might relieve stress, lower blood pressure, improve blood circulation, and burn a few extra calories, and things of this nature. However, you will not strengthen muscles beyond a modest level, will not build muscle nor even prevent muscle wasting due to aging, will not slow the aging process and it’s ravaging effects, will not increase your overall physical fitness and work capacity to any significant degree, will not build full body bone density, will not increase basal metabolic rate, will not improve your body composition, and will not improve the shape and appearance of you physique, nor achieve any of the other more high level physical changes produced in response to exercise.
Here’s the rub: When people wrongly believe that their work and play constitutes exercise — and consequently that this work and play will provide them with the benefits of exercise — they typically do not see the need to perform serious, structured, intentional exercise. Since many people find real exercise uncomfortable or boring, most try to avoid it. The notion that walking the dog, playing with the kids, and partaking in one’s favorite sport or recreational activity provides the benefits of exercise and fullfulls the body’s needs, plays right in to people’s desire to avoid exercise. After all, if one can stay healthy and receive all the benefits of exercise while having fun doing an activity they enjoy and would be doing anyway, why bother with boring, painful exercise? In other words, work and play ends up supplanting real exercise, but as a result, meaningful health and fitness benefits and physical changes fail to occur.
Exercise is a logical strategy designed to activate the protective mechanisms of the body and trigger a desired physical adaptation. It is most effective when it is designed and applied according to sound physiological and anatomical principles, and executed in a manner consistent with, and taking advantage of, various mechanical and physical laws and principles.
Exercise, properly performed, is not fun. It is not supposed to be fun. It’s designed to be effective, not fun. If it is fun, then you should suspect that something is wrong with your exercise program. Exercise is however very rewarding — and great satisfaction is obtained by doing something so beneficial and productive. Exercise also empowers you to live life on your own terms.
Participation in sports, recreation, and various other physical activities are wonderful things to involve yourself in if you are so inclined. They are part of what makes life enjoyable and satisfying. However, do not attempt to use sports and recreation as a means to become fit. Understand that If you confuse and mix exercise and recreation you grossly compromise any forthcoming physical benefits of the exercise; you will most likely also destroy a large degree of the fun recreation offers. Instead, become fit through proper, structured exercise, then go out and use your strong, fit body to better accomplish your work and enjoy your favorite form of recreation. If you place exercise and other forms of physical activity in their proper perspective, the quality of your life will markedly improve. So will your exercise program and the results that come with it.