With the summer months upon us, the mantra of the Minnesotan is, “I want to get outside!” Naturally, this extends to our fitness activities as well. But should it?
To answer this question, an examination of the definition of “Physical Activity” and “Exercise” is warranted. The American College of Sports Medicine defines Physical Activity as, “Bodily movement produced by the contraction of skeletal muscles that results in a substantial increase over resting energy expenditure.” Exercise is defined as, “A type of physical activity consisting of planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movement done to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness.” The major distinction here is that physical activity is simply movement; exercise is actually designed and intended to improve our fitness.
As we migrate outside, many of the activities we engage in (golfing, walking the lake, long bike rides, paddle boarding) should probably be accurately classified as Physical Activity, not Exercise. These activities are “good” for us but they aren’t truly engineered to improve our fitness. This is especially true when it comes to our muscles and bones and the benefits of resistance exercise. Engaging in outdoor physical activity does virtually nothing to stimulate the distinct and important health and fitness benefits of resistance exercise. Of course, I don’t want to overstate or generalize this concept and make no mistake, going on a run outside is just as beneficial as running on a treadmill (all factors being equal).
All of this leads me to my controversial theory about Minnesotans (and this theory only applies to exercisers… so it applies to most people reading this!): Minnesotans are in their worst physical fitness during the summer months. Ironic, because this is “beach” season and the season most aspire to be in their best physical condition.
Where does my theory come from? It gets back to the definition of Physical Activity and Exercise. Minnesotans, by virtue of our winter weather, exercise in health clubs and fitness facilities more so than our warmer climate counterparts. We EXERCISE. When we take a spin class or use our Peloton, we are more likely to exercise at an intensity level that challenges our VO2 Max (a measure of our aerobic fitness that is correlated with lifespan). When the summer months commence, we forego our trips to gyms and use the Peloton less and we head outdoors. But the unintended result is that much of our summer activity is actually Physical Activity and NOT Exercise. By definition, exercise is what actually improves our fitness, and in the summer, we do less of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a walk around Bde Maka Ska as much as the next Minnesotan; but in addition, I need to strength train and do intentional cardio that qualify as exercise.