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Our nutritionists tackle common dieting queries.

Most Asked Exercise Questions

Q.

What activities actually 'count' as exercise?

A.

Our Expert Says ...

For exercise to be really beneficial in helping weight loss, it has to be more than what you usually do so that your body is forced to burn more calories, helping towards the calorie deficit you need to lose weight.

Housework, gardening and so on is classed as 'physical activity' as these tasks do burn calories and are relevant when it comes to the balance of calories in and out. However, they are not activities which elevate the heart rate high enough to be officially classed as 'exercise' which is defined as:

"Exercise is physical exertion of the body. The aim of exercise is to achieve a beneficial level of fitness and health, both physically and mentally". www.nhs.uk

Exercise is an important component of long-term weight loss as it ensures heart and bone health, as well as sustaining and increasing a person's metabolic rate. 'Metabolic rate' is the number calories your body burns for basic physiological functions, i.e. just lying still and simple breathing processes.

When we start to manipulate calorie intake through nutrition (go on a diet), exercise prevents the body reverting to a lower calorie requirement. Without exercise people often fall into a vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting where the body adjusts to whatever lower calorie diet is attempted. Then as soon as they eat more again, the body stores this increase as fat as its energy needs have been lowered. With exercise this lowering is prevented - which makes weight loss sustainable.

Counting physical activity as exercise would be a false economy as it short-changes the body's health and fitness needs.

So, to answer the question, although physical activity and exercise both burn calories, the distinction of what is classed under which heading is important as it has direct relation to the level of potential calorie expenditure.

In summary, ideally you should aim to be physically active - and also include some exercise too, that is those activities that will exert the body.

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