Why is leisure activity so important?

One thing I read a lot is conflating “leisure-time physical activity” with “all physical activity”.   For example, try the following, from a book on things that can affect happiness:

In the USA, roughly 62 percent of adults engage in at least some physical activity during their leisure time.  That means 38 percent don’t engage in any physical activity whatsoever!

Gardening is recommended as a “leisure-time physical activity”.  The landscape guy who spends 8 hours a day digging and planting and trimming and goes home exhausted?  Gets “no physical activity whatsoever.”  By this measure, Marines in boot camp probably get “no physical activity whatsoever.”  Riiiiight.

Yes, for me, “at work” usually means “sitting down”.  But not every job is sedentary.   Yet I keep running into this.  Even on health surveys:  “Do not count physical activity that is part of your job.”

I know part of it is classist.  Many of the people who create these surveys and statistics have desk jobs.  Janitorial jobs are hella active, but not lucrative.  But is that all?  Is walking a mile to the office in the morning really not as good for you as walking a mile to nowhere?  Is walking around a shop all day putting away stock and re-folding shirts not aerobic enough?  Is it believed that the stress of being a construction worker all week isn’t as beneficial as working on your own house or a Habitat for Humanity house for a few hours?  What?

Update: One study found “a high level of occupational activity is associated with a decreased likelihood of being obese.” Another found that one factor in heart disease – plasma viscosity – improves with leisure-time activity but not work activity.  This study describes how work-related activity and leisure-time activity often don’t go together.

19 thoughts on “Why is leisure activity so important?

  1. I think a lot of it is the correlation between weight and social class. If lots of poor people have physically demanding jobs, and yet lots of poor people are fat, you have to discount work-related physical activity or the “just exercise more and you’ll be thin!” starts to fall apart.

  2. Gardening is recommended as a “leisure-time physical activity”. The landscape guy who spends 8 hours a day digging and planting and trimming and goes home exhausted? Gets “no physical activity whatsoever.” By this measure, Marines in boot camp probably get “no physical activity whatsoever.” Riiiiight.

    This really made me snorf. Thanks!

    And seriously, you and GBMB are so right. Without classism, fatism just falls apart at the seams.

  3. Wasn’t there a study showing that hotel housekeeping staff actually showed improvements in their health numbers just from being told that they were actually doing physical activity by cleaning rooms all day? No change in their routines, just some of them were told they were getting no physical activity and others were told they were.

    • Yeah! I read that too, but it was awhile ago (a year ago?). I think I saw it on a FA blog. Hmmm. Off to google.

    • I found an article talking about it. It’s not exactly fat friendly (the article) but it’s still very cool.

      http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17792517

      So yeah, those poor Marines in Boot Camp, if no one tells them they’re getting exercise then, well, they’re not, LOL!

      Seriously though, they call it the placebo affect, I disagree. Maybe it really is the power of positive thinking. HAES in action. Be happy about what you’re doing (instead of thinking it’s worthless) and your body is healthier because of it. That’s how I read this.

  4. I think this is about the premise that weight relates to levels of physical activity.

    As it doesn’t appear to any more than eating, they have to get around this.

    Whenever the light of reality shows up cals in/out, they distract by saying, we the people, just aren’t doing it properly.

  5. I don’t have a car in a city where while you don’t necessarily need a car, it certainly helps. I have to walk most places and I’ve been told by doctors that this doesn’t count as exercise. I’ve been told by doctors that all the housework I do doesn’t count. When I ask my feet they tell me a different story.

  6. If they were talking about activities that get your heart into a “target” heart range, that would make more sense to me. I’m kind of antsy, and if I wear my pedometer when I teach, I find that in that 90 minutes I’ll often take 1500-2000 steps (about 3/4 – 1 mile) just from pacing around the front of the room while I talk or around the classroom while my students are working. But, my heart rate isn’t up and I’m not breathing harder the way I might be if I were to walk a 12 minute mile while exercising, and so I can see why I wouldn’t be getting the same aerobic benefit from it.

    But, if things like gardening or going for leisurely walks in your leisure time are going to count as exercise, it makes no sense why performing similar activities at work wouldn’t.

  7. I used to work in a nursing home as an activities assistant. This was a 40 hour a week job. Except for maybe two hours a day (and this was not two hours straight), I was on my feet and constantly on the go. If I had a pedometer, it would have registered high step counts. I also conducted an excercise class once a week that included leg kicks, lifts, and stretching arms. Sometimes I would sweat like crazy at this job. Forget the medical community….this was my workout!

  8. If you are moving, you are moving…period. ALL movement counts, & for whatever health benefits are available from exercise, all moving around is beneficial & it does not need to be in any damn “target zone” in order for one to reap the benefits. As one who has always been active, while doing work & also in ‘leisure time” & as a person who has had to keep fighting to overcome the tendency to exercise compulsively, I know it all counts….not to mention the fact that there are plenty of fitness nuts who drop dead at an early age & plenty of couch potatoes who live to be 100 or more. This is just one more way to harass us &, as wriggles I believe it was said, to again reassert that, whatever we are doing, we are doing it ‘wrong’ & not enough. As long as there are any people who do not fit into the thin & trim, superfit & muscular mold, there will always be those who are trying to tell us that we are doing things wrong, need to change our behavior, & that our lack of ‘self-care’ will cost everyone else a lot of money & drive us into an early grave.

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  10. Sara, isn’t that interesting because thin women have been getting cutesy advice about how housework counts as exercise since probably the 1950s. I guess it’s only if you’re overweight or obese that it doesn’t “count.” As you said, I can definitely agree that cleaning my whole house is certainly as strenuous as going for a run and lifting some weights.

    The other thing that bothers me about this kind of reporting is that it can sometimes swing the other way to glorify physical work (the “we’re all fat because we don’t work hard on the farm like our ancestors” argument) and gloss over the potential problems with this kind of labor. Sure, people who have to or choose to work in very physical jobs are getting lots of exercise that is probably good for them in many ways. But many aspects of those jobs are bad for your physical body as well–repetitive motions, lifting things that are too heavy, being out in all kinds of weather, lack of ergonomic consideration, etc. At the end of your working life, your body is likely to be totally broken down. Especially for agricultural workers who might do work resembling that which “our ancestors” did. (Farm work always comes to the forefront of my mind now that I have read some of brownfemipower’s posts about farm work and how dangerous and grueling it can be, especially since many of the workers are “illegal” and either way have very little leverage to protest working conditions without losing their jobs). Tell me again how that’s “good for you”?

    Of course, if you’re thin, everyone knows you’re healthy. If you’re fat, by definition you must not be doing enough physical activity or else you’d be thin! Problem solved!

  11. Sure, people who have to or choose to work in very physical jobs are getting lots of exercise that is probably good for them in many ways. But many aspects of those jobs are bad for your physical body as well–repetitive motions, lifting things that are too heavy, being out in all kinds of weather, lack of ergonomic consideration, etc. At the end of your working life, your body is likely to be totally broken down.

    Indeed. It had occurred to me that leisure-time physical activity might be more beneficial than work-related physical activity because there’s less of it (avoiding overuse injuries) and/or because it’s more likely to be fun.

  12. (Farm work always comes to the forefront of my mind now that I have read some of brownfemipower’s posts about farm work and how dangerous and grueling it can be, especially since many of the workers are “illegal” and either way have very little leverage to protest working conditions without losing their jobs).

    And didn’t she say the average lifespan of an agricultural worker is 49 years? Yeah, so much for “all that exercise” being oh so good for you. It’s not so good for you if you’re not allowed to stop no matter what.

  13. Right, meowser, so to sum up: We’re all fat because we either do all of our heavy labor on the job and don’t do any leisure-time physical activity–or perhaps instead because we don’t do all that romanticized heavy physical labor that our ancestors did, depending on who’s on their soapbox this week. And the mortality issue that we should be panicking about is that oft-reported possibility that this generation MAY BE THE FIRST NOT TO OUTLIVE ITS PARENTS BECAUSE OF OBESITY!!11!! (Not that this has happened yet, of course, nor is there any sign that people on average are doing anything other than getting slightly taller, slightly fatter, and slightly healthier over time from what I understand.)

    I’m so glad we’ve put our finger on the real problems here! :P

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