What Counts as Exercise? These 5 Everyday Activities Fit the Bill

what counts as exercise? these 5 things

What comes to mind when you think of exercise? Maybe it’s a structured workout class on your mat. Perhaps you’re lifting some dumbbells, getting ready to do a plank, or putting on ankle weights for a glute-burning session. Errands like washing the dishes, cleaning up after the kids, or carrying groceries probably don’t come to mind—but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a workout in disguise. Turns out, there are plenty of daily motions that fit the bill for what counts as exercise. 

Even if they don’t look like “formal exercise,” there’s a ton of value and health benefits in simple tasks that keep you moving. We even have a word for them—NEAT, aka Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. It covers the energy you expend during daily activities and tasks you wouldn’t classify as “working out.”

Not only does NEAT help promote muscle recovery, but it’s also a low-impact, accessible way for anyone to incorporate more light exercise into their lifestyle. It can improve your heart health, relieves stress, regulates blood sugar, boost mood, add to your daily energy expenditure, and increases metabolism to help maintain a healthy weight.

To reframe what counts as exercise, we first need to ditch the narrative that exercise = a grueling workout that ends with a through-the-roof heart rate and dripping sweat. Whereas your daily workout may account for 30-60 minutes, you have ~16 hours to build your NEAT score! If you’re active throughout the day, these simple activities can outweigh the energy you expend during exercise, getting you closer to your goals. 

Pro tip: You can add everyday activities to your obé activity tracker to remind yourself that even simple movement “counts.” Just open your obé app, tap on Track Activity in the bottom right hand corner, and select Add your own! under manual activity.

5 daily activities that count as exercise

1. Gardening

For many people, gardening can be a cathartic activity that helps clear the mind, nourish the soul, and perhaps even adds fresh nourishment to the dinner plate! But it’s also a “sneaky” form of labor for your body because it’s easy to zone out and miss what our bodies are physically doing while we tend to our garden. 

Why it counts: Gardening involves digging, lifting heavy bags, pushing wheelbarrows, squatting, bending over, and so much more. These motions are akin to strength training, equivalent to the effects of lifting weights or using your body for resistance. They strengthen your muscles, work your joints, and put a load on the body that can even help build bone mass. Although you’re getting a workout in, gardening is low-impact since you’re moving slowly and putting less stress on your body compared to going for a run. (For the 101 on why faster is not always better in fitness, read this.)

What you’re working: Gardening hits on all the major muscle groups: legs, glutes, arms, shoulders, neck, back, and core.

2. Housework

While our tasks around the house are seemingly endless (laundry, dishes, that bedroom shelf project, bathroom cleaning, ugh!), they also provide us ample opportunities to get our exercise in. Case in point: raise your hand if your wearable has ever suggested logging the past 20 minutes of vacuuming as an exercise. Whatever chore you’re crossing off the list, it often involves bending, lifting, walking, isometric holds, scrubbing, and at the very least, standing. 

Why it counts: Housework requires you to be up and moving around, performing a variety of tasks around the house. Moving your body, increasing your heart rate, and burning calories? Sounds like exercise to us.

What you’re working: Tasks like mopping or vacuuming require you to twist your body repeatedly, strengthening your core. Cleaning hard-to-reach places may require you to squat, which works your glutes and even increases your flexibility. Your heart rate will also increase if you’re moving quickly from one room to another, so try to exaggerate your motions to get even more bang for your buck. 

3. Keeping up with the kids

Kids have a lot of energy they need to get out, just like you! Whether it’s a game of tag, hide-and-go-seek, or just trying to round them up to get them out of the house, it’s easy to break a sweat following them around. Take advantage of your kids’ need for speed to get some movement in yourself.

Why it counts: Keeping your kids entertained hits on several different forms of exercise. Lifting them and throwing them over your head qualifies as strength training. If they’re feeling speedy, a game of tag increases your heart rate and is great for your cardiovascular health.

What you’re working: Running around with your kids will quickly get you into zone 1-2 aerobic cardio, which keeps the heart healthy and helps improve mobility plus agility. When you pick your kids up from the ground, you activate your glutes, quads, and hamstrings (think deadlifts). And you’re definitely using those arms. 

4. Running errands

So you have to pick up your dry cleaning, drop off a package at the post office, get gas for the car, hit the grocery store for some last-minute items, and drop your kid off at XYZ’s house? That’s cardio, plain and simple. 

Why it counts: They wouldn’t call it “running” errands if it didn’t count for something. At the very least, you’ll be spending a lot of time on your feet—and at the most demanding extremes (hi, New Yorkers), running your errands becomes a glorified power walk. (Most of us at obé know, walking is pretty much the most underrated form of exercise out there.) Depending on your errands, you can also get an added strength training bonus. Heavy grocery bags, getting a case of water down from a high shelf, and pushing your cart all rank up points for that. 

What you’re working: Walking works your legs, core, and arms (depending on your speed!). When standing on your tiptoes to reach a high shelf, you’re engaging and strengthening your calf muscles. You’re also working your quads and glutes when squatting down to look at items on a lower shelf. 

5. Getting intimate

Yes, you read that right! While intimacy looks different for everyone, sexual activity can qualify as a moderate-intensity workout that uses more energy than some forms of weight training. Just goes to show, what counts as exercise doesn’t have to be grueling.

Why it counts: In a recent review, researchers found that the average heart rates of those engaged in sexual relations ranged between 90 and 130 bpm, peaking at 145-170. Speeding up your heart rate is an obvious form of cardiovascular activity—and it also means that you’re burning energy. Depending on the individual, sexual activity can match the caloric expenditure of moderate or vigorous activity. Facts! 

What you’re working: Standing during sex can activate the arm muscles of both people involved—to support the weight of the other person and to pull your body weight onto someone else. Longer sessions can also increase your metabolic output, and help adults reach their weekly recommended 500-1,000 MET (metabolic equivalent task) minutes.

The bottom line is this: don’t sweat too much thinking about what counts as exercise. Movement is good for you, no matter what that movement looks like. As long as you’re on your feet and breaking up sedentary time, you’re benefiting big time.

Think of it this way—your body doesn’t know the difference between you picking up a heavy bag of groceries or a heavy dumbbell. Instead of dreading your daily chores, think of them as another way to meet your movement goals and do your body some good. 

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2 responses to “What Counts as Exercise? These 5 Everyday Activities Fit the Bill”

  1. I love this! It’s a reminder that you don’t have to log in to a class or be jumping up and down to get movement in. I live in the city and walk everywhere and sometimes I forget that that is a workout on its own!

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