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Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis – Exercise or Not?

Friday, July 12, 2013

I was reading one of the SparkPeople feature articles on 29 June, “15 Low-Impact Calorie-Blasting Exercises” and housework was considered exercise. They even had a section where you can turn housework into an exercise routine.

I recently bought The Spark Solution and in the introductory chapters, on page 49, there is a section on "Off the Couch and Out of Bed." It says:

Even if you are someone who can exercise one hour every day without experiencing burnout or injury, 23 hours remain. How are you spending them? Each day we ask you to estimate and track the number of minutes you spend on your feet or doing something other than sleeping, eating, or sitting. Grocery shopping (pushing a full cart, walking around the store, and hauling bags to and from the car) counts. So, do the trips you make to the copier, the water cooler, and the restroom a few times a day. And the 10 minutes you spent having a tickle with your toddler -- that counts too. You will burn thousands of extra calories over time, and it keeps your metabolism from hibernating between workouts. By setting a goal for these NEAT minutes each day - what is referred to as non-exercise activity thermogenesis -- you'll find ways to get moving which will not only burn calories and boost metabolism but also give you more energy and motivation to keep moving.

In several forums here on SparkPeople, there are topics being discussed regarding what people think of as exercise. Here is what I think: I take from the above quote that such activities and the calories they burn are important. I believe that to be true especially for those of us who have any physical limitations and are unable to workout in a gym -- I believe they are doubly important and worth counting as exercise.

It's a judgement call what will be counted. For myself, I only count those activities which I feel caused me to work to some degree and definitely required some effort
- housekeeping if either vigorous or for a long period of time (vacuuming, heavy lifting)
- gardening if vigorous or for a long period of time (weeding, cultivating, moving plants,
- watering [that take's me an hour plus to do])
- stair climbing done repeatedly as an exercise and/or if done enough times in the day to add up to at least 15 minutes spent doing it
- babysitting for those times when I actively play with my grandson at some activity requiring physical exertion (such as T-ball for 30 minutes with Grandma fetching and throwing the ball)
shopping if walking across parking lots and/or around stores for up to or more than 30 minutes
- laundry (I hang all my clothes to dry in my laundry room [I can't carry the baskets when they are heavy with wet clothing to take them out to the line] so I count the time it takes to hang them and/or take them down and fold them – the hanging for me is quite a stretch as I'm only 5'1” and have to watch I don't get dizzy reaching and lifting my arms over my head)
- painting (I don't count the hours I spend painting my landscapes and pet portraits, but if I am helping to paint a room or pieces of furniture or staining a porch, I count those)
- cooking if for a long period of time taking considerable energy (preparing something like a large stock pot of a soup that required chopping of many vegetables and the cleaning up and cutting of meats and bones; or preparing several make-ahead meals or preparing foods for storage after grocery shopping that involved things like soaking, washing, rinsing, and drying, as well as cutting, chopping, measuring, weighing, packaging, and storing – I keep most things in ready to grab baggies filled with portion controlled servings of the different foods)

For traditional exercise I do things that are low-impact but none the less, provide strength and cardio workouts
- 70 minute sessions of Aquafit (I try for 4 times a week however when I am in heart failure, the length of time spent and the number of exercises completed will lessen but the end result is recalculated accordingly, but when I'm in better form, I will do my entire routine slowly with exaggerated movements for maximum benefit and make use of the added resistance in the water with water dumb bells)
- walking (even though I have to walk slowly and with a cane, it is still walking and I record the calories burned in slow walking with a cane as they are much different than those burned in a normal walk)
- treadmill (I use the treadmill in the winter, usually on days I do not do Aquafit, and even though I can not use an incline, I record walking on a treadmill at whatever speed I was going for whatever period of time)
- therapy exercises (if I am doing exercises on the floor for my sore hips, or thera-band exercises for my rotator cuffs, or small dumb bell weight lifting for overall therapy, I count the time spent)

Whether you do traditional exercise or not, unless you are bed ridden or must remain in a wheel chair, each of us do some activities throughout the day and those activities burn calories.

Many SparkPeople members have physical limitations of some sort. My limitations stem from several chronic medical conditions. I have to tailor my activities to what my body is telling me that day. I have (in the order they were diagnosed) Crohn's Disease with allergies and Rheumatoid Arthritis, I have 2 sleep disorders (Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Restless Leg Syndrome), I have Osteo Arthritis, I have Dilated Cardiomyopathy (from an attack by a viral flu one quarter of my heart is stretched and floppy, unable to pump properly with a function of 33%) with Congestive Heart Failure and more recently a leaking heart valve that may require open heart surgery, and I'm a Type II Diabetic with eye and kidney problems. When I was first diagnosed with the heart condition, I couldn't walk to the end of my suburban driveway, could do very little housework, could not work outside in the garden, and could barely take care of my daily personal hygiene needs. I was used to working in an office as an Executive Assistant to a Director of Education for 35-60 hours a week (whatever was required), I had raised my daughter as a single parent almost from infancy until she was 21 years of age, and I had re-married and with my husband I was busy renovating our home.

With time and effort, I have learned to do things easier, to listen to my body, to rest when I need to, to say “No” when I am unable to answer a request, to accept there are things that I can no longer do as quickly or as efficiently (if at all) that I used to be able to do, and to accept that there is life worth living for after the trauma of dealing with yet another chronic condition. With what I have been through in the last 8 years with my heart condition alone, it is a miracle I can once again do the above things at all and when I do, I feel the burn and I am glad to be able to feel it.

In someone without these health issues, such activities may be run of the mill and require little to no effort but for many of us, that is not the case. For many of us, movement of almost any kind is exercise.
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  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

TIME2BLOOM4ME 9/13/2013 3:17PM

    I do short tiny sparks to build my strength. I just don't have the endurance I should. Every step counts. emoticon

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PATIENTHAND 9/2/2013 7:12AM

    I have a tip for you about laundry. I also can not carry the laundry baskets. But I can drag them. I use one of those bungee straps with the hooks on each end that are used to secure cargo. You could also tie a rope on a handle etc. I pull the baskets through the house and it is MUCH easier.

I was a serious gardener at one time, and hope to get back to it again as I get stronger. I cant lift bags of weeds and debris. So, I use a blue tarp and attach the bungee cord to the grommet at a corner, and also pull that around the yard. MUCH easier than lifting. The hardest part is breaking the surface tension when you start. I will drag it to the curb area and then fill a lawn bag.

Hope this helps

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VOLARI52 7/14/2013 5:54PM

    You are doing so well with all your health restrictions...... emoticon

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NEWTINK 7/14/2013 3:50PM

    I think that you are doing wonderfully with all your health restrictions . Not that this is any of my business but cut yourself some slack dont worry about what everyone else is doing or if they can do more .... Do what you can do that is all that is important ... When I first started out 21 months ago my first exercise was walking the 12 feet to my bathroom 50 times a day. We all are different and we all progress at a different rate ... with what you have going on then you are a success for the effort that you already do and that you want to keep pushing emoticon emoticon

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ALEXSGIRL1 7/12/2013 2:55PM

    This is n excellent blog and one many many people here at spark people need to read. You are an excellent example that we all need some form of exercise to keep our bodies working . You are a true motivator . so many that can ,do nothing .you my friend have so much stopping you but yet you continue on and on hugs

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