Ten things that aren’t cardio


Many of my clients update me on their daily/weekly cardio activities by way of email. I think this is noble, and it is always appreciated — though it isn’t always cardio. And though the line between exercise and cardio can be fine, it is more often broad — especially under the confluent human behaviors of rationalization and indolence.

Here are the ten most common non-cardio cardio sessions I receive from week to week.

  1. Mowing the lawn. This is definitely work and there are calories burned to be sure. But the calories burned are relative to the size of the lawn, and the equipment being used. If you’re mowing ten acres with a tractor, you are still going for a ride. If you’re mowing a quarter acre on a 21% grade with a push-mower, there may actually be a sweat brewin’, still not necessarily cardio.
  2. Chasing the kids. Chasing the kids is to cardio, as getting a beer is to halftime — not exercise. Nope, not too many calories burned chasing the kids. Accelerated heart rate and frustration yes, but that’s not the healthiest way to increase your pulse. Unless your child is on the treadmill in front of you, or you are chasing them from San Diego to Carlsbad, probably not sufficient cardio.
  3. Walking the hills of Fallbrook (or any community). By far the most common cardio session I receive each week. Walking can actually be cardio, but as I drive the hills of Fallbrook, I observe how people walk. This activity can be a very healthy endeavor, as well as relaxing. But cardio, true cardio? More often than not, these walks are very healthy, but not true cardio — not in the fat burning sense that most people are seeking.
  4. Sex. I had a woman ask me recently if sex was cardio. Like mowing the lawn, this is relative to the size of the lawn and the equipment used. Anyway, sex, like other physical activities, is exercise and can burn calories. Only the lucky ones can count it as fat-burning cardio.
  5. Cleaning the house. Very seldom do I clean mine, so I can’t really say. This I know; if you’re breathing hard and sweating, and maintaining a heart rate of 130+ bmp for an extended period, your housework may be cardio. Otherwise, it’s just housework and that’s why I never do it.
  6. Walking on the beach. See number 3, and then reduce it’s metabolic and caloric value since the beach is that much more relaxing.
  7. Gardening. Great dexterity, flexibility, and balance developed here if you adhere to, and maintain good postures during your planting and yard grooming activities. Calories burned? Not too many. Calories grown? Depends on what you’re planting. Gardening is a great activity — but not a major fat burner.
  8. Waxing the car. This is exercise to be sure. Especially for the right deltoid — wax on/wax off, that sort of thing. Just like a tennis player, you can tell a car enthusiast at a glance, by the disparity of the size and definition of his right arm and shoulder relative to the one on his left side. He’ll still have a belly though, unless he does some real cardio.
  9. Visiting SeaWorld. Even if you run through SeaWorld at a sprinters pace, any would-be cardio will be offset by two words: Funnel Cake.
  10. Shopping at the mall, Costco, Ikea and other large profile structures. Okay, I actually do consider this cardio because I really do run to get in and out of these wretched places as fast as possible. Most linger though, and there are few calories spent in lingering.

“Cardio” in the perception of a fitness enthusiast is a way to coax the body into losing body fat, minimizing blood sugar, and increasing and maintaining a higher heart-rate. However, in the mind of a fitness professional, this entails reaching a certain heart rate, and maintaining that heart rate for an extended period of time. Exercises which will promote this include the usual fair; rigorous walking, running, cycling (stationary or hard road time), stair stepping, elliptical trainers, etc.

In simplistic terms, cardio for the purpose of fat loss can be described as follows: Exercising, breathing hard, sweating — and maintaining that level of intensity for 30-45 minutes. That is more likely to be cardio than the 10 items listed above.

That’s not to say that the activities listed aren’t good. There is value in all exercise; all movement is good. Decreased blood pressure, burning blood-sugar before it turns to fat, stress relief, mental clarity, improved balance, increased flexibility can all developed by embracing the ten listed activities. But as a means of cardio for the sake of fat loss, stick to the standard fair, and stick to ’em like glue.

12 responses

  1. Nice article, and I enjoyed reading it. I have a few points of contention.

    You lose weight by taking in fewer calories than you burn. The key to losing weight is diet, first and foremost. If people eat properly, then they don’t need to join gyms and kill themselves on a treadmill and, in fact, the fun activities listed above are more than adequate for general physical fitness.

    For those needing to lose weight, reducing caloric intake while sticking to a sensible and healthy diet, will do the trick. Adults, as they age, do need to add a bit of weight training to combat the bone density loss associated with ageing, but really, that is all you need.

    Academic studies tracking healthy longevity have discovered that those living around the Mediterranean and on the Japanese island of Okinawa, live longer and healthier than anywhere else. Few, if any, of those residents have ever seen a gym, let alone engaged in the kind of strenuous cardio activities you list as being necessary. They do, however, walk – A LOT. Granted, their geography is composed of varied terrain, many hills, and that is key. The major influence, though, is what they eat.

    Nutrition is the key, and exercise, while important, has secondary influence on overall health. Further, if a person brings their diet in line, there is absolutely no need to spend a penny on equipment, facilities, trainers, or anything else, except perhaps a sturdy pair of walking shoes.

    Cheers πŸ™‚

    • She:

      I agree with you completely on this. In fact, I always estimate that weight loss is 80+% dietary discipline, and exercise an almost necessary smaller component.

      I must confess that this is one I dug out of the archives from my old blog in order to put in a bit of light humor to this one, which has not been too funny so far I am told. I had written this maybe 10 years ago or so.

      My perspective with regard to Okinawans is that they are oranges, and I wrote this for apples — Americans struggling with weight loss: Apples who need, and seek out weight loss here in the western world, as a result of their western practices of indulgence, can not and should not be compared to oranges.

      We should all live like Sardinians, but the point is that we don’t.

      Thanks so much for checking in!

  2. Hi Roy!

    Wonderful new website! I’m sure all your readers appreciate the opportunity to comment also.

    Yes, I agree, sweating is important, especially as a sign of burning fat with exercise. That is why swimming, although a sensuous, enjoyable activity, is not the best for weight loss.

    As for #4, I believe Mae West said, “Anything worth doing, is worth doing slowly πŸ™‚

    • I am a competitive athlete in swimming and I sweat every practice, as much as I sweat from running, beach volleyball or any of the other sports I do. Swimming is a great weight loss activity, especially for seriously overweight people, because little stress is placed on bones and joints, resulting in fewer injuries. Research has suggested, however, that warm water is better for weight loss than cool is..something to do with the body’s reaction to cold and fat and energy conservation. It is, however, important to add a little extra resistance work to the swimming, but a brisk walk a few times a week with some cheap 5lb weights on is all you need πŸ™‚

      From an orange finding it pretty easy to thrive in the land of apples πŸ™‚

  3. Roy, for a while now, WordPress has been blocking my comments as spam, of all the nerve πŸ™‚

    If you would go into your controls and OK my URL, I believe it will pass on your site.

    Please delete this post. I just needed to post once with the correct URL. Thank you!

  4. Dr. J: Thanks for stopping in — very much appreciate any good mojo you can offer. Agree with Mae West for sure. Can’t argue with, what we would call on the prairie, a big hungry girl! Also agree more with your take on swimming, though it is relative. Read below.

    She: Blanket statement on swimming somewhat denied and partially accepted. It can be great for weightloss, and not so great — but that’s relative to effort, intensity, and dietary support — like any exercise, and as discussed previously, dietary support a much larger part of the picture. We must accept that.

    Most casual swimmers I know do it for the exercise experience and not for weight loss. I swim regularly and sometimes I push, other times not so much. It has also been documented — and debunked that swimmers who workout intensely tend to be large eaters, as do sprinters. Socratically stated — no one relay knows, but dare to suggest.

    Re: walking, totally agree. The CDC keeps has a registry of people who have lost weight successfully. By their definition, successful weight loss is losing more than 30 pounds and keeping it off for more than one year. This statistic speaks volumes: Of those 35,000 people in the registry, 80+% (claim to) practice walking more than 4 days per week, at least 30 minutes at a stretch. Less than 5% cite swimming as an contributory activity.

  5. “Can” be great for weight loss is always implied, naturally, as it is for any form of exercise.

    As far as the bit about pushing versus coasting, that applies to any form of exercise at all, so not quite sure what the point was?

    Regarding your CDC reference: what is missing is that the less than 5% citing swimming as contributory does not mean that it was effective 5% of the time or in 5% of the respondents; in fact, it is only practiced by 5% of the exercising population due mainly to the fa

  6. oops hit send by mistake:

    …due mainly to the fact that only about 5% of the participants have access to a pool and/or know how to swim – cheers!

  7. DangShe: You confuse me, but…

    My “can be” was in response to your “Swimming is a great weight loss activity”. No activity is a good or bad weightloss activity inasmuch as weightloss activities should be peripheral as we both agree, and that dietary concerns should be central.

    I did not suggest that swimming is 5% effective. I do believe in the value of swimming, as I do stair climbing, walking, slow running, sprinting, cycling, jumping, and more as forms of exercise which can, and may not be good for fat burning — relative to intensity, duration and nutritional support.

    I’m not sure if this clears up my stance, but I hope it helps. Chee…. uhm, Lachiam πŸ™‚

  8. Another post I enjoyed immensely. As I’m starting to see more and more we have the same views when it comes to training/exercise. Some people would never understand that although I may have walked miles and miles, hours and hours outside around the city or spend the whole day in the mall, I still had to get to the gym to perform the steady-state/intervals of cardio.

  9. Pingback: Week 2 | Site Title

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