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Physical Activity vs. Exercise

When I first started writing this blog, it was meant to describe a shift that has occurred in my career and life.  I have been a personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach for 15 years and have run a business for 12 years.  Last year I took a step back from in-person training to work abroad, consult for other companies, and run my business.  And then…a pandemic hit.  Now many of the SVPT trainers and clients are dealing with the exact same issue – going from being active all day to finding it difficult to get off the couch.

Before the pandemic, I would still see clients 3 days a week for a few hours when I was in town.  (I think it’s important to keep my tools sharp, be around my team, keep learning, and be IN the industry in the trenches.)  Despite that, I quickly noticed that I moved from being active all day on the gym floor to mostly working at a desk.  I have become the person we see all the time at the gym – the desk worker!  Now that the gym is temporarily closed due to COVID-19, my level of movement is even lower than before, and I am sure EVERYONE is dealing with an overall loss of movement and exercise because of fitness facility closures.

As a trainer I have always understood how bad sitting at a desk was for the body, but now I am LIVING it.   Even though I do more sitting now than ever, I still train 4-6 days a week. However, what I have now realized more than is that formal gym-based exercise is not enough on its own – it must be supplemented with simple ACTIVITY.

Currently many of us are stuck in our houses, either working from home at a makeshift desk, or homeschooling kids, or simply unable to work…and making good use of the Netflix subscription.  Life has simply changed, and for many people it hasn’t been for the better. Exercise and physical activity have become even harder to fit in, and motivation is at an all-time low.

The biggest eye opener for me was when I looked at my phone one day and saw how many steps I took over the week. I was mortified.  I exercised 1 hour a day, sat for 8-10 hours, and got in 1500 steps a day?  Our bodies simply are not designed for that.

(Disclaimer:  Yes, steps are not the only indicator of activity, but since I have my phone on me most of the time, it is a great measurement for ME of activity levels.  Sometimes measurement is necessary to shed light, even if it doesn’t necessarily show the whole picture.)

The realization was – the less movement you have in your daily life, the more you need to do to be fit and healthy (physically and mentally).  For example, if your day job is sitting for 8 hours, you need to fit in structured exercise AND general movement. The formal gym exercise is to work on specific qualities like strength or mobility, and the general activity spread throughout the day is to keep the body vital, energized, loose, and healthy. When we are sedentary, we stagnate and stiffen up. When we move, we have life and energy and actually feel human!

For those who have a job that keeps them moving all day – think construction laborers, childcare workers, retail associates – formal, gym-based exercise can take a more central role and be more targeted to specific goals. These folks are already getting plenty of unstructured physical activity throughout the day! For those in a more sedentary job, perhaps informal activity should be the main focus with structured exercise as the supplementary piece.

Confused yet?  Thought getting to the gym and working out was enough?  Don’t get me wrong…of course the exercise you are doing is GREAT!  But we also need activity outside of structured exercise.  And that doesn’t have to be complicated – it can be as simple as walking.

Let’s break down the difference.  Both exercise and general movement improve health, and both have benefits for the body and mind.  But the term “physical activity” should not be confused with “exercise”, which is a subcategory of physical activity.

What is exercise?

Exercise is any intentional bodily activity that enhances or maintains physical fitness and overall health and wellness. Exercise is targeted and specific to goals, and it has particular physiological effects. It is planned, structured, repetitive, and aims to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness.

What is physical activity?

Physical activity simply means movement of the body that uses energy, or BEING ACTIVE. Walking, household chores, gardening, pushing a baby stroller, climbing the stairs, recreational sports, or dancing the night away are all good examples of being active. Beyond exercise, any other physical activity that is done during leisure time, for transport to get to and from places, or as part of a person’s work, has a health benefit.

We as a population generally engage in very little physical activity.  We may exercise, but we aren’t as ACTIVE.  We exercise, then Netflix.  We exercise, then sit at a desk all day.  We exercise, then park as close as we can to where we are going, we drive everywhere, we take advantage of the EASY in life.  The phrase “active couch potatoes” has emerged to describe those of us who do structured exercise 30-60 minutes per day, yet remain sedentary the rest of the day. And let’s face it, we just don’t engage in the amount of movement that we did 50 years ago due to advances in technology (and sometimes just plain laziness!).

So what do you do?  Be more active or exercise more?   It depends.  If you exercise for an hour a day, add more activity.  If you are active all day, add some structured exercise to improve physical fitness.

For myself, I have set a personal goal of either taking a minimum of 10,000 steps per day OR engaging in some type of activity outside of structured exercise – a walk, a bike ride, or recreational sports. This is in addition to my scheduled exercise program 4-6 days per week. Now, this isn’t a strict plan. I know life will happen and some days I will not get in my activity, but at least I am now more aware of it.  When you know better, you do better.

So how can you be more ACTIVE in a day?  Well, it’s simple – move more, sit less.  Engage in life more

Park far away, or walk to the store
Take a walk in nature, or simply around the block
Play a game outside with your kid(s)
Join a recreation league sports team
Find a friend that wants to try new activities with you
Take the stairs every chance you get
Make lunch hour about movement
Plant a garden and keep it alive
Organize your house
Help a neighbor or friend or family member organize theirs
Get a dog
Volunteer
Sign up for a charity walk
Offer to help a senior with things they need done around their house
Dance, or take a dance class
Learn a new skill or sport

*Of course, due to physical and social distancing many of these are not possible now, but in the future you can definitely add these in. 

During this pandemic, there are many ways you can add activity into your day while you isolate, and you can do it with the people you are isolating alongside:

Take a 30-60 minute walk – away from everyone else – every day

(The benefits of simple walking have been proven over and over again)

Games with the kids

Clear some furniture and find a game that gets you moving
Get outside for games in the yard

Stairs – if you have stairs in your home, make the effort to go up and down them more than you usually do

Gardening and/or yard work (weather permitting)
Maybe it’s time to take down those Christmas decorations, clean up the yard, or plant the garden you have always wanted

Organize

Home Improvement
That room or basement that you have always wanted to organize or paint…….or the basement…..now is the time

Spring Clean
Go deep.

Personally, since adding in more activity, I simply feel better – physically and mentally.  I feel like I did when I was on my feet training people for 10 hours a day.  Also, t my daily COVID-19 physical distance walks and gym spring cleaning activity has been a huge help in managing stress.

Finally, during these stressful times………do what you can.  Do what feels good to you at the time.  Exercise and physical activity shouldn’t ADD stress, it should relieve it. Right now everyone is in survival mode and stress is high, and sometimes surviving doesn’t include squats. Sometimes it’s just a nice walk, scrubbing the shower or reading a book.

Stay healthy!

Shara Vigeant, BA, NSCA-CPT*D, CFSC

Owner, SVPT Fitness & Athletics

Running from COVID-19: Beginners Guide to Running

The closure of public and private gyms and recreation facilities has created a “running boom” since it’s one of the easiest ways to get in some exercise under the new social and physical distancing protocols. You might think there’s really nothing to it; just lace up your kicks, switch on the iPod and go, right? WRONG.

If your goal is to actually take up running as a hobby, then do yourself a favour and don’t simply hit the pavement and run until you want to puke, or your legs give out. Sure, you totally could go do this, but your risk for injury would be high and would not likely lead you to a sustainable or enjoyable running routine. Seeing as we’ll be in this self-isolation situation for the unforeseeable future, you might as well do this the right way and actually make productive use of your newfound free time.

The real first step you need to take is to actually get fit before you run. Yes, you read that right. Before you run, you need to make sure your body is able to handle the impact of running. If you have been exercising regularly, doing your strength and mobility work and are injury free, then awesome, you should be good to go.

If you haven’t been consistent with strength work or exercise, or haven’t exercised ever, we wouldn’t recommend hitting the pavement before your body is actually in any physical shape to handle running. Running takes strength to push off and absorb the impact as you land, and if you don’t know how to control your body you are dramatically increasing your risk of injury.

Check out our blog on Strength Training for Runners to help you get strong before starting a running routine.

Once the body is ready for the impact of running the next step would be to invest in a decent pair of running shoes. Seriously. For the love of all that is Holy, DO NOT dust off those sneakers you’ve had sitting in your closet for the past decade. You don’t need top of the line, but a new pair of running shoes (not trainers or casual shoes) will make all the difference in how your body takes to your new pavement pounding hobby.

Okay, now that you’ve got your fresh and supportive kicks, and a strong and healthy body, it’s time to get outside. We have included a 6 Week Beginner Run Program at the end of this blog, but first please review these important tips.

Warm Up. Seriously.
“Serious runners” might scoff at you warming up by doing anything other than just running at a slower pace than normal, but that doesn’t mean you should skip your warm up too. Especially now, where most of the day is undoubtedly spent between the couch and an uncomfortable office chair, warming your body up is important.

Start Slow
If you want to enjoy more that the first 30 seconds of your run, take it out slow. Slower than you think you need to. If you’re new to exercise, you’ll learn quickly that you’ve got the most energy at the beginning and that fresh feeling fades through your workout. Those who are familiar with strength training can draw an analogy to energy levels during a lifting session. If you don’t want to burn out too quickly, take it easy in the beginning.

Start with Walk/Run Intervals
Sure, you could go out and run 30 minutes straight, but tomorrow walking might be an issue and long term that’s not sustainable. Start with 3-5 minutes run, 1 minute walk and increase your running time every other time you run. If your form breaks down, take a break and let your body recover by walking. If you lose your form doing squats usually you’d stop right? Running is no different; quality is always better than quantity.

Remember: It Will Get Easier
Whether you’re a seasoned gym-goer or new to exercise altogether, a new activity is always tough in the beginning. Hang in there. Before you know it, your runs will feel easier, your form will make it feel smoother, and you might even find you’re enjoying yourself on your run.

Practice Post-Run Self-Care
Be sure to give your muscles some TLC after exercising. Foam roll, stretch, and if you’re feeling fancy, treat yourself to a relaxing Epsom salt bath – you earned it!

PLEASE REMEMBER – when you are out there running, PLEASE adhere to the physical distancing protocols from health officials during this pandemic. We are in this together, so if you each give 3 feet, you will be 6 feet apart. Stay Healthy!

6 Week Beginner Run Program

Week 1:
2-3 runs 20 -30 minutes total – run 3-5 mins, walk 1 min

Week 2:
2-3 runs 25 – 35 minutes total – run 4-6 mins, walk 1 min

Week 3:
2-4 runs 30 – 40 minutes total – run 5-7 mins, walk 1 min

Week 4:
2-4 runs 30 – 40 minutes total – run 6-8 mins, walk 1 min

Week 5:
2-5 runs 35 – 4 5minutes total – run 7-9 mins, walk 1 min

Week 6:
2-5 runs 35 – 45 minutes total – run 8-10 mins, walk 1 min

*Keep in mind that the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines suggest AT LEAST 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity per week. This translates to 30 minutes 5 days per week to meet the minimum 150 minutes.

Recovery and Self-Care

The topics of recovery and self-care are pretty hot in the fitness industry. These topics have some strong merit and are worth discussing, especially given how confusing social media and the internet can be when it comes to deciding your recovery and self-care methods. We would like to simplify it.

For the purposes of this blog, we will consider “recovery” to be about the physical side of health and “self-care” to be about the mental and emotional side. While separate in some senses, there is strong overlap between the two and they are often closely intertwined.

First thing – you can only train as hard as you can recover. Read that again. Then read one more time. If you want to continue crushing your goals and making progress, your recovery must be equally as focused. You can’t keep training at a full gas tank level of intensity when the gas tank is only a quarter full. For every penny you withdraw from the bank for training, you need to make an equal or greater deposit for recovery.

Recovery is different for everyone. It can also be different from year to year, month to month, and sometimes even week to week. Your recovery will go through natural fluctuations along with your activity levels, fitness levels, and lifestyle. The way you recovered from training last year might be dramatically different this year. Maybe you changed jobs, opened a business, got divorced, changed fitness goals, changed type of physical activity, had a child, got injured….all while getting another year older. Age and lifestyle will dramatically affect how you recover from activity as well as the time it takes to recover. Embrace the change that will happen when it comes to choosing recovery methods. Be okay with being different than before.

Recovery methods can take many forms: a full day off, massage, yoga, stretching, sauna, ice bath, hot tub, cardiovascular work, naps, low intensity movement (active recovery), quality sleep, or mobility sessions. While there is conflicting science out there about what works best for recovery, the BEST recovery method is one that you can access easily (for consistency) and that, you know……actually helps you feel recovered! Recovery should have you feeling GOOD and ready to train again.

This year, or even this month, your recovery might be more focused on managing the stress of life rather than managing the stress of exercise. That is where self-care can come in and have a lot of benefit. Self-care can help you recover physically as well, since taking care of your mental and emotional health will help you train at a higher level and with greater longevity. Sometimes we are mentally exhausted, even on a full physical gas tank. When this happens, taking time to ‘reset’ mentally or check out of life is very needed.

Some of the most popular forms of self-care are: disconnecting from technology, coffee with a friend, Netflix and chill, therapy, walking the dog, walking in nature, yoga, bath and a book, quiet time with a book, day at the spa, time away, and quality sleep.

At the end of the day – simplify and choose a recovery and/or self-care method that works for you and that you can stick to. Because like all things in life and exercise, CONSISTENCY IS KEY.

What matters is that you feel recovered, regenerated, and rejuvenated from your recovery and self-care routine, regardless of what method you use.

Shara Vigeant, BA, NSCA-CPT*D, CFSC