What Counts As Working Out? Everything, Scientists Say

You may not have to do crunches, burpees, or even break a sweat to get a workout. Some researchers say any activity counts. But how do you count it?

What Counts As Working Out? Everything, Scientists Say

We're starting February, and for some who resolved to be more active in 2019, the motivation to exercise may already be lost. But if you've fallen off track, don't worry. Some experts say we ought to be thinking about exercise beyond just a trip to the gym. Measuring every little bit of everyday activity counts, too.

"Anything is better than nothing. And that is the truth," Michelle Segar, best-selling author and director of the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center told Newsy. "And that's what the science now says."

Segar studies the psychology behind motivation. She's found that when it comes to exercise, workouts may seem daunting because we think they must fit certain standards: like it has to be high-intensity, happen at a gym, or last for a set period of time. Instead, Segar encourages people to subscribe to a different model – one she calls "everything counts."

"People are tired, especially women, and so that gets in people's ways," Segar said. "So when everything counts, it means when you're running after your kids or you're chasing your dog that got off the leash or you are going to work and you decide to park two rows further away, it's still that anything is better than nothing and that is the truth. "

But how do you measure when "everything counts?" Scientists use a number called the metabolic equivalent, or MET.

"A MET is the amount of oxygen your body consumes, and it is directly proportional to the energy you expand during physical activity, which is one way that exercise physiologists estimate how many calories are burned during physical activity," explains Jorianne Numbers, an Exercise Physiologist at Northwestern Medicine. "Having a basic understanding of METs and how to use them can help determine the best physical activities to help clients with weight loss or fitness goals, and METs are used to estimate the energy expenditure for many common physical activities. However it is different and can vary based on physical physical capabilities: gender, age."

Everything we do has a MET value, not just traditional exercise. Running on a treadmill at 6 MPH: 9.8 METs. Laying on the couch watching Netflix: 1 MET. Cleaning your place: 3.3 METs.

Owning A Pet Could Literally Be Making You Healthier
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Having a dog or cat in the house releases oxytocin, a hormone associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol.


"METs are used as a guideline for their exercise prescription," Numbers says.  "For instance, we have younger patients who want to get back to playing softball, in their softball league. And they will be running at a certain speed on the treadmill and think they are ready to go back to playing softball. Softball is a 6 MET level. And if my patient is only exercising at five MET levels, we need to get him up to six MET levels for him to exercise comfortably. At this time of year, we recommend our cardiac patients do not shovel snow and find someone else to do it for them, because on that level for shoveling snow is 18 METs."

But counting METS could seem tedious and might not be for everyone. The important thing, Segar says, is to find whatever activity gives you immediate gratification — whether that's a full workout, or just taking the stairs.

"Now, the science really legitimizes doing whatever is going to work for you. Because anything is better than nothing. And I think that's what we need to start replacing the beliefs with," Segar said.