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Does any movement count as exercise?

Yes, mowing the lawn or doing housework can serve as your workout — but only if it's done at "moderate intensity."
Mowing the lawn can count as exercise if you are doing it at a brisk pace.
Mowing the lawn can count as exercise if you are doing it at a brisk pace.Getty Images

As a personal trainer and weight-loss coach, I am constantly answering health and fitness questions from my clients, on social media and in our Start TODAY Facebook group. In this column, I address some of the most common questions and roadblocks that trip people up on their journey to establish a health and fitness routine.

I skipped my workout — but I was moving all day! Does that count as exercise?

As the weather gets warmer, many of my clients ask me if playing volleyball outside at a barbecue or mowing the lawn counts as a workout. This brings up a broader question that many people wonder: “If I move a lot during the day, does that count as my workout?”

The answer is maybe.

First, let’s talk about what it means to exercise.

What is exercise?

The term “exercise” refers to an activity that requires physical effort, especially when performed to improve or maintain one’s health and fitness level. This can also extend to a physical activity done to specifically work on a skill or performance area, like sports conditioning, which caters to a sport’s unique movements (like jumping or sprinting). 

At least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity is recommended a day, but that doesn’t mean it needs to come all in one bout of exercise; It can be accumulated throughout the day.

According to the American Heart Association, for exercise to count as moderate intensity, your heart rate should be around 50%-70% of your maximum heart rate. You should feel like your body is continually challenged for the duration of the activity to be count it as exercise. 

We can use these guidelines to determine whether the movement you do throughout the day counts as exercise or not.

 Which movements count as exercise?

Gardening, swimming a lap or two in the pool, running around with your kids, going for a leisurely walk … while these activities are all great for overall health, they’re not really putting a dent into the exercise quota that’s going to help with weight loss or that counts toward “moderate exercise.”

But there are quite a few common activities that do count as exercise. Each of these activities are performed at a level of intensity or effort that can allow you to count them as your workout.

Recreational sports

Recreational sports — whether you play in a league or with family and friends in the backyard — are a form of exercise. But the level at which you challenge yourself during the time of play determines the quality of that exercise.

Obviously, there needs to be a certain level of intensity or difficulty for it to be considered an effective workout. If you’re playing beach volleyball and just watching the ball go over the net, you’re hardly moving. But if you’re playing in a competitive game and moving in the sand or jumping up to block the ball, then this definitely counts as moderate exercise. Similarly, swimming a few laps in the pool isn’t going to get you that important aerobic activity, but swimming a solid amount of laps for an extended period of time will. 

So yes, if you play a game of volleyball or basketball with your family for 30 minutes at a moderate intensity (think: you work up a sweat and are slightly out of breath), it 100% counts as exercise.

Mowing the lawn

Pushing a lawn mower requires a bit of effort, not only are you walking around the yard, but it requires some muscle to push the weight of the mower and maneuver it. So, it’s safe to say that mowing the lawn can be compared to going on a brisk walk — but only if you’re mowing at faster than a leisurely pace! The brisk walk, with the added aspect of resistance, will get your heart rate up and can count as your daily exercise. (This also goes for shoveling snow in the winter!) 

Cleaning out the garage

If you’re lugging boxes out of the garage, lifting tables and pulling out furniture, then you can check your workout off your to-do list.

The resistance that comes from lugging, lifting and pulling all these heavy objects is a form of weight training and counts as exercise. Make sure you’re using good form by lowering into a squat when lifting any weight, this will ensure you don't strain your back and will also better target your glutes and hamstrings.


Cleaning the house can be considered a form of exercise as long as you remain active. Moving quickly through the house and doing different activities like carrying the laundry up and down the stairs, squatting as you load or unload the dishes, and vacuuming are all aerobic and strength activities that you can count as exercise.

The bottom line: Prioritize workouts and look at additional movement as icing on the cake

I recommend that my clients stay committed to their workout routine and look at recreational sports and other movement-based activities as a bonus.

There will be times when you do especially strenuous activities that can count as your workout for the day — but the majority of the time, doing a chore or playing a backyard game won’t get your heart rate up enough to count as a solid workout. 

Moving throughout the day has lots of benefits — like even more calorie burn and reduction of aches and pain — so I always encourage people to move as much as possible! But if you have toning or weight-loss goals, it’s important to still get in that targeted workout.

More of your questions, answered!