Can daily activities constitute exercise?

Registered dietician Karen Collins of The American Institute for Cancer Research responds to questions about diet and exercise as they relate to health.

Q:As long as the activities I do all day add up to at least 30 minutes, does that mean I’m getting enough physical activity?

A: The recommendation to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily (and to aim for 60 minutes or more daily) to reduce cancer risk and promote overall health can include shorter bits of activity scattered throughout your day, beyond your normal daily activities. The activity that research has linked to better health counts in blocks of 10 minutes or more and involves a “moderate” pace that raises your heart rate or breathing slightly. Getting off public transportation one stop early and walking briskly or 10 minutes of vacuuming at an invigorating pace are good examples. Smaller bits of activity are still definitely worth including as much as you can throughout the day and do add up to make a difference in the total calories you burn. Some evidence suggests that the total of these activities, such as walking up one flight of stairs at work or at home, moving around while you cook and walking from a far space of the parking lot into work or shops may be part of what makes the difference between people who gradually gain weight each year and those who maintain their weight. Most people find that these small bits of physical activity don’t necessarily provide the energizing, stress-reduction benefits of moving for at least 10 minutes at a time. So I urge you to work at creating time for some longer activity, too.

Q:Is it safe to lose weight while breastfeeding?

A: Certainly. In fact, the extra calories you use in producing breast milk may even help. Exclusive breastfeeding, meaning giving your baby nothing else, is recommended as the optimal choice for baby’s and mother’s health for the first six months. In addition, it’s associated with greatest weight loss. To maintain successful milk production, the key is to make sure you are losing weight gradually and with healthy food choices. Limit consumption of high-sugar drinks and watch out for high-fat or high-sugar snack foods and desserts without totally depriving yourself. Portion control can be important, as well. If you’ve gotten used to larger portions during pregnancy, taking three-quarters of your usual portions of meat and starchy foods (pasta, cereal, potatoes) can make a significant difference. Remember, too, that adding in physical activity, such as taking your baby for a walk every day, also helps to create the difference between calories consumed and calories burned that leads to weight loss.

The American Institute for Cancer Research is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk.