5 Ways to Find Out if you Get Enough Exercise (#5 makes housework count!)
Updated: Nov 30, 2021
There are many ways to track your exercise - heart rate monitors, calorie trackers, even pen and paper - but how do you know if you're doing enough?
The standard recommendation is 150 minutes of moderately-intense activity per week (which jussssst so happens to work out to about 30 minutes per day, the requirement in my game!).
But beyond that, what matters?
Do you have to be a runner?
Do you have to lift weights?
Do we need to burn a certain number of calories?
Do we need to hit certain heart rates?
The benefits of exercise are too good to ignore - heart health, blood sugar control, strong muscles and bones, reduced stress, and longevity, just to name a few - and of course you probably have fitness and health goals for yourself, too.
Let’s dig into 5 ways you can assess your activity levels to make sure you’re reaping all the best benefits from exercise and activity!
The simplest way to assess your activity levels is to track how many minutes you're active in a day or week.
The standard recommendation is 150 minutes per week. That breaks down to about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, though I’m inclined to recommend 30 minutes of movement every day - especially because walking and house work and yard work and active leisure count!
And when it comes to exercise, those minutes do not have to be consecutive. Break the minutes up however it fits into your day.
In fact, I believe there’s more value in short bouts of activity throughout the day versus being sedentary for hours and hours and hours and then beating yourself up in the gym.
That said, get those minutes however you can. If all you can do is a killer 30-minute bout before work, do it.
The 150 minutes per week recommendation also says those 150 minutes need to be moderately-intense.
Moderately-intense means you're working harder than normal but you can still talk. (Though the longer you go, the more quiet you might get.)
That’s one of the cues I use to assess intensity with my private clients! They start out chatty, and then go quiet at some point. If they go quiet early in the workout, I might adjust what happens next. If they go quiet about 2/3 of the way through? BOOM - sweet spot.
Interestingly, if you’re doing vigorously-intense activity, the standard changes to only 75 minutes per week. In exercise land, time and intensity are inversely proportional.
During vigorously-intense exercise, you’ll definitely be sweating and breathing hard, and you'll struggle to maintain a conversation. You might grunt, moan, or drop a few f-bombs. (Or is that just me?)
My personal talk test is….
Light Intensity - chat chat CHAT chat chat OMG STORY! Chatty McChatChat
Moderate Intensity - chat chat chat sing sing PHEW, feeling it! chat chat chatty-chatty-bing-bong HOLD UP, GIMME A SEC. :::deep breath::: OK I'M GOOD chat chat…. Chat…. Chat chat...
Vigorous Intensity - LET’S DO THIS… sing, chat… huff puff… chat chat WAIT… huffle-puffle gasp+wheeze… OH DAYUM THIS IS…. :::awkward noises::: MOTHER [beeeeeep]
TYPE OF WORKOUT
Plug your ears while I yell:
EVERY TYPE OF WORKOUT WORKS.
I’m SO over the hype that there’s “a right way” to exercise. Yes, I have my style, and I coach in a specific way that I’ve developed over the last decade of experience, but if my methods don’t float your boat, you should absolutely go somewhere else and find the style that does!
I mean, I'll miss you, but I'll get over it.
Walking, Stretching, Mobility
Running, Jumping Rope, Doing Burpees
Dancing, Playing Sports, Playing with Kids
CrossFit, Zumba, Yoga, Powerlifting ( <---- How’s THAT for a list? LOL )
You get the idea.
How To Choose:
#1 Factor ---> What is mostly likely to increase your compliance?
What are you drawn to?
What makes you feel best?
What is accessible to you?
What fits with your goals? (Not sure? I can help.)
How Not To Choose:
Because everyone’s doing it.
Because it’s all over Instagram.
Because it worked for Karen and Chad.
Because you must suffer to benefit or get results.
Because it’s what you “should” do.
Yes, certain workout styles are better for certain goals, but you can improve all your health markers by doing almost any kind of exercise as long as that exercise is an improvement upon what you were doing.
Maybe Zumba doesn't float my boat, but if it's the thing that lights you up and keeps you active? Dance away, my friend!
We expend calories when we exercise, so we can use the number of calories burned to assess our workouts, right?
Most people use calorie burn if they're looking to lose weight.
To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume, aiming for a 500 calorie deficit per day to lose approximately a pound per week.
In theory, this sound simple. Go to the gym, pop in your headphones, and spend an hour (an hour!) on that machine that says it burns 500 calories in 60 minutes.
Even though it's true that a consistent calorie deficit leads to weight loss, here are the problems with using calorie burn as your main tool:
weight loss and human metabolism are much more complex than the simple "3500 calorie deficit per week = 1 pound weight loss" formula
hunger and satiety will be factors in your compliance
over-exercising to try to burn calories is difficult to do and maintain long-term
all the machines at the gym and workouts marketed on instagram vastly overestimate the number of calories you can burn
And, tracking calories can turn into an unhealthy obsession for many people and trigger shame and insecurity, and that's not healthy.
Additionally, what's easier to maintain over the long-term, skipping your usual bagel with cream cheese per day (400 calorie deficit) or running for 45 minutes on a treadmill (400 calorie burn)?
But if you insist… you can use:
Activity Trackers: These can be wildly off, as they are an estimation only.
According to a new inquiry by Stanford, “even the most accurate tracker was off by an average of 27 percent when it came to measuring energy expenditure. The worst was off by 93 percent!”
Heart Rate Monitors: These are more accurate because they take your heart rate into consideration. The harder you exercise, the more oxygen your body needs. Your heart pumps faster, your lungs take in more air, and your body uses the oxygen to make energy. More oxygen needed = more calories burned.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The more you exercise, the more efficient and strong your body becomes. But that means it will be harder and harder to burn enough calories through exercise to be in the calorie-deficit required to continue losing weight.
That's another reason you can't rely on burning calories to lose weight.
I’m all for knowing approximately how many calories you’re consuming on any given day as well as how many calories are in your favorite restaurant and take-out foods. I’m always shocked at how wildly off I am when I estimate.
Once I have a general sense, I use that information to inform my choices within the big picture.
But as far as tracking calories goes and obsessing that way? Unless my goal is to be fitness competition stage-ready (and it’s not), no thanks.
And I ask exactly zero clients to track calories.
(Not the baseball team.)
A MET is a way to measure your body’s expenditure of energy, and one MET is defined as the energy you use when you’re resting or sitting still.
The higher the MET value of a particular activity, the more energy your muscles will need to expend to do that activity.
For example, an activity that has a value of 4 METs means you’ll use four times the amount of energy than you would if you were watching Netflix and chilling.
Wait, not the chill part. (Ohhhhhh…. Snap *wink*)
Ok, focus, Laura.
You can use the MET value of an activity to help you determine its intensity and approximately how many calories you’ll burn.
HOW? Here's how: There’s a formula! Woot!
All you gotta do is plug in some data.
The formula is:
METs x 3.5 x (your body weight in kilograms) ➗ 200 = calories burned per minute
Say you weigh 175 pounds (approximately 79 kg) and you play racquetball, which has a MET value of 7.
7 x 3.5 x 79 / 200 = 9.6 calories per minute If you play racquetball for an hour (no breaks), you’ll burn about 576 calories.
THIS IS INTERESTING, RIGHT?
Calm yourself, Laura.
The general rule - there’s always a general rule - is to get 500 MET minutes a week for optimal benefits to your cardiovascular health.
So to keep the MET thing even easier, and take out the calorie calculation, you could think of the hour of racquetball as 420 MET minutes.
That’s almost a full week of METs!
But again, I recommend daily activity. And you know why so I’ll shut up about it.
How do you find out the MET value of exercise and activities?
Go Here: METs FOR ALL ACTIVITIES
The Compendium of Physical Activities lists the MET values for everything from exercise to housework to yard work to leisure activities. They continue to update the list as more data and research become available.
✅ 150 minutes per week of moderately-intense exercise is ideal!
✅ Aim for a 500 calorie deficit per day through nutrition and exercise to lose a pound of fat per week. Tracking calories can provide insight but is not necessary.
✅ METs can help you determine the energy expenditure of any activity you do!