Exercise is not enough.

As a Physical therapist, exercise is one of the primary modalities I use to help patients return to health. Still, after eight years as a practicing clinician, I am reminded weekly of how powerful exercise, consistently, can be.

After implementing a several-week exercise regime, I’ve seen bedridden patients miraculously return to full function and regain their function, independence, and lives.

Exercise is known to be a  powerful tool for maintaining & or improving health.

According to the CDC, the American Adult should have at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week. An example of a weekly breakdown is five 30-minute moderate-intensity aerobic activities a week or three 25 min of vigorous-intensity aerobic activities. How would your current physical activity level compare to this recommendation?

If you are current on the medical research, exercise compares well and sometimes is superior when studied against many medical procedures and surgeries when improving function and pain from a rehabilitative perspective. From a wellness & longevity perspective, exercise is one of the significant pillars of achieving a long health span and reducing the risk of frailty. To continue to name a few benefits of exercise, it Improves physical, cardiovascular, and mental health, reduces the risk of chronic diseases, and promotes a better quality of life. To summarize, exercise is excellent and essential to health, wellness, and longevity, so why is it not enough?

According to Oxford Languages, the first definition of exercise is “an activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness.”

To most people, this vague, ambiguous definition does not provide them with the direction they need to achieve their optimal health states. Moreover, trying to understand what the best exercise is, or better yet, what the best exercise is for ME and my goals, leads to more questions, more confusion, and more barriers to exercising.

Another barrier to exercise is that most people see exercise as a chore or a daily task that must be completed. Sometimes it’s a task that isn’t enjoyable to the person; they do it. A viewpoint of exercise like this can be practical for individuals that tend to be more disciplined or have a specific end goal. However, for most people like myself, motivation may ween occasionally, and overtime leads to a decreased intensity or completion of those tasks. Furthermore, most people who exercise have specific structured times throughout the day, an average of 30mins to 2 hours, for exercise. For me, 530 am is my time to exercise for about an hour. Afterward, besides walking my Cane Corso and playing with my four children, I am sedentary most of the day. And there lies the problem!!!

It is my opinion that although structured exercise is beneficial, multiple bouts of physical activity throughout the day are better!

From my understanding of the scientific literature, it displays the benefits of more activity and multiple stimuli throughout the day. Physical activity doesn’t require a gym, a set time, a program, a rep scheme, names, titles, or structure. It just involves movement!!! “Movement is the language of life,” and the more movement one creates, the healthier the person is. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis(NEAT) is all the activity performed outside exercise. NEAT can be more critical to overall health, and here is the reason why. Assume you work out for 1 hour daily, making up approximately 5% of your total energy expenditure (TDEE). The remainder of daily activities or movements, NEAT, can comprise 15-30% of the TDEE. So one can burn more calories with NEAT than one can with exercise.

So how does someone increase their NEAT? The significant part of this answer is that it isn’t challenging, and everyone can start today. A few suggestions would be to: park your car further away from your destination to steal a few more seconds to mins of walking; Take a short walk after eating a meal. Studies have shown that walking after eating helps with digestion and lowers the glycemic load of the meal; stand up or pace while talking on the phone; intermittently stand and stretch for 5-10minutes when sitting for greater than 30 mins; owning an animal, animals can be great companions and motivators to movement; playing with children are also great for increasing NEAT, they move constantly and also play on the floor often.

In summary, everyone should strive to meet their exercise requirements because of all the health benefits. One would do well to find something they enjoy doing. Exercise should be challenging enough to elicit positive adaptations. Also, exercise should be performed consistently and can be achieved with others to increase adherence likely. However, increasing one’s NEAT by generally moving more is critical to maintaining or losing weight, maintaining or improving health, and improving life span.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, June 2). How much physical activity do adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

JA; L. (n.d.). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Best practice & research. Clinical endocrinology & metabolism.

Walsh, K. (2022, September 9). Walking after meals for just 2 minutes is enough to lower blood sugar-heres why, according to Science. EatingWell.

About the author : Stanley Gutierrez

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