The word exercise has many meanings. Too many meanings, in fact. And I believe we would have a lot less fitness confusion and a more clear view of how to get fit if we looked at it in three distinct categories.
When we walk to the store, we often say that we are “getting our exercise.” When we go to the gym, we go there to exercise. When we are training for a marathon, we again are doing some sort of exercise. While all of these statements are true, to a certain extent, I think this line of thinking gets us in trouble. So I propose that we look at fitness in a different way.
To that end, let me introduce you to three (not so) new categories: Movement, Exercise, and Training. In that order.
I know, there is nothing all that new or revolutionary here yet but hang on. Let’s look at each one separately.
It is no secret that our lives have become increasingly sedentary and our health as a population has obviously suffered for it. Even the World Health Organization has been ringing that warning bell since at least 2002. Well, movement is the antidote to sedentarism.
Walking to the store, cycling to work, playing with the kids or pets, gardening, carrying your laundry up the stairs, lifting heavy household objects into high cupboards, getting up off the couch to change the channel on the TV—movement is the baseline for good health.
The vast majority of us need more movement in our lives. Constant and consistent movement is truly the foundation for health and fitness. And this is non-negotiable. We have already seen first hand what happens when we try to negotiate our way out of this. How is that 7-minute workout working for you when you spend the rest of the day sitting on your butt? Not great, right?
The great thing about living an active life is that if at the end of your active day, you are happy with your fitness level, you have made it. Keep it up! It is possible to be fit, strong, and healthy from simply moving.
But many of us know there are holes in our daily movement patterns that need to be filled. That is where exercising comes in.
First, let’s face it, humans have not exercised throughout our history on this planet. This is a new development. Much like a multivitamin is a nutritional supplement to an otherwise healthy diet, exercise is a physical supplement to a movement filled lifestyle. In the same vein, we know that supplements should not be the way we try to achieve a healthy diet, so exercise should not be the only way we try to stay fit.
If we have a desk job, and simply use our fingers, wrists and forearms to earn our living (like I am right now—ha!), then we know that we need to get some vitamin E (for exercise) into our day. That is where hitting the trail for a run, throwing some weights around in the gym, or stopping at the yoga studio on the way home from work can come in handy.
But know this—it is not enough on its own. It helps, it is a good idea, and I encourage, it but don’t be fooled. You need to increase your daily movement in order to really be healthy and fit in a sustainable way.
Now, what happens if you have got a specific goal or event in your mind, like running a five-minute mile, building some envious biceps, running a marathon, playing a new sport? That is where training comes in.
Training is the work that is required to achieve a specific goal or to climb your own personal Everest.
The reason that training is number three in this list of fitness categories is that training has nothing to do with wellness or health. In fact, it can result in just the opposite over the long-term. Many Olympic athletes know that they are trading some amount of future health and wellness for their moment of glory.
Training, at its heart, is exercising for exercise' sake. There is nothing wrong with that! We all have goals and we should be encouraged to reach them, but don’t confuse this with your baseline health and fitness. When your doctor tells you that you need to “get some exercise," please do not start here. Running a marathon is not a sustainable and healthy way to achieve the outcome that your doctor is talking about.
Professional athletes have times during the year when they train hard, but they also have an off-season when they fall back on movement and exercise. Even the word "training" implies that there is a “program” involved. Or perhaps even a “trainer” that is consulted to reach this goal.
Training is likely not something you see yourself doing constantly for the rest of your life. But hopefully, you do see yourself mowing your own lawn, shoveling your sidewalk, walking to the grocery store, or squatting down to pick something up off the floor easily and effectively for the rest of your life. I know I do.