Shiva Seethal

What Counts as Exercise?

Making the effort to exercise regularly is an admirable pursuit. Physical activity can play a vital role in cardiovascular health, weight loss, body strengthening, and even emotional well-being. But not all physical exertion is truly “exercise.” By definition, “exercise” is physical activity that leads to sustained elevation of the heart rate; this can only be achieved through challenges to the steady state of the body’s metabolism. So although we may consider being on our feet for most of day as exercise, unless the heart is beating faster than it normally would, it’s actually not helping as much as you think.

Consider the body to be like the engine of a car. When you accelerate the engine, you burn more gasoline. If we engage cruise control, and drive at a steady speed, fuel is conserved. The body works in a similar manner. When we accelerate our metabolism and heart rate, we are burning more fuel. If we maintain a steady pace of activity, we still burn fuel but less so that if we were to have “accelerations.” The human body is very adept at adapting; it quickly assesses the metabolic requirements we take on with physical activities and makes adjustments.

So is light, prolonged physical activity useless? Not at all. It all depends on the goals one is trying to achieve. Walking for an hour may not burn the calories of a series of sprints and may not be the most effective way to lose weight, but it does improve the circulation to the limbs and the capacities of the heart and lungs. It is also a great way to relax or spend time with friends and loved ones. The key is to select the right type of exercise for the intended purpose – weight loss, muscle building, cardiovascular health, rehabilitation, etc. We’ll talk more about that in future columns. For now, hope this helped!

This column is sponsored by Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center, and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFHN or of its advertisers.

Dr. Seetahal is a board-certified general and bariatric surgeon. He has published over 20 scientific articles and book chapters. For questions related to surgical health, you can contact him at, or call his office at 863-421-7626 to schedule an appointment.

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