Gray Exercise: It all counts, even if you're not dead

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Ah, my dear perfectionists, dichotomous thinkers, black-or-whiters, all-or-nothingers:

As grateful as we are for our innocent perfectionistic ways, often attributing our success to them, they have a dark side.  You’ve probably experienced this in action when dieting. 

You are either on, completely, entirely, religiously, like perfect 10.0 score on the balance beam-on your meal plan a.k.a. diet, or you are off, in “screw it” mode, waaaaay off, like next galaxy-off the plan (and your relentless inner critic is waiting there to let you know how terrible and undisciplined you are; to blame you instead of your diet for failing (link to failed you blog post here). 

This all-or-nothing approach to food often spills over into other areas of life as well.  In discussing self-care and health behaviors with my clients, specifically exercise a.k.a. joyful movement, the black-or-white continuously rears its head yet again.  My clients often describe their exercise as happening in streaks:  either totally on or totally off, not moving at all.  Moreover, if they don’t feel like they’re going to die after a workout or if the workout is not somehow measured in miles, time, rounds, or reps, it simply does. not. count…so what’s the point of doing it all?

I don’t know who this omnipresent workout auditor is, who apparently has decided the litmus test of a workout “counting” or not is the feeling of impending death or collapse upon its completion.  But, much like the tooth fairy (and the food police), it surely exists.  Mmhmmm.  Sure.

As far as your health, the nice-try-but-you-don’t-have-a-receipt-for-that-IRS-auditor-of accounting, is concerned, IT ALL COUNTS.  Yep—even just walking out the door, not changing into workout clothes, not strapping on your FitBit—it still counts.  Don’t believe me?  Welp-I know you love research

A 2014 study found that just 5 to 10 minutes of slow jogging daily was enough to significantly reduce the probability of dying from any cause, including cardiovascular disease—even if the participants had risk factors like smoking.  Even an hour a week (total) was enough to get the benefits.  Exceeding that duration didn’t make a significant difference.  They concluded that longer or more intense is not necessarily better.

A 2015 12-year longitudinal study that looked at runners in slow, moderate, and strenuous running intensity categories found that those in the slow group had a much lower mortality risk than those in the strenuous group.  Those in the moderate group had mortality risk between those in the slow and strenuous groups.  They concluded that slow may be healthier than strenuous.

Even lifting weights more slowly has proved beneficial.  A 2001 study compared two groups doing the same weightlifting exercises for 10 weeks.  One group lifted weights at a typical speed of one second up, one second down.  The other group lifted weights much more slowly:  10 seconds up, 4 seconds down.  The slower group had strength gains 50% higher than the typical speed group.

Moral of the story:  embrace the gray.  Move in ways that feel good.  Don’t measure it.  Listen to your body, not a “fitness” magazine or training plan.  It all counts.

Nicole Bonsol