Seven months ago, I moved from India to a different part of the world, the Netherlands. It is popular for tulip fields and flat lands but especially for the biking culture since most common mode of transport in the Netherlands is a bike. Designated bike lanes and no elevation makes it ideal to bike long distances. Carrying the corona kilos with me, I came to this country totally unfit with an intention that biking daily to my university will make me fit.
For the sole purpose of fitness, I chose to live far from my university – with a distance that was more than 5 km (In the Netherlands, 5 km is too far, literally a different city). Every day, I used to bike 5 km to the university and track my speed, number of steps, time I took, etc. Initially I struggled, but in a week or two, I got used to it. The only things I was keeping a track of were the physical movements. Few months later, I started feeling less energetic. I was sleeping more than I used to, had fatigue and it started affecting my daily performance at the university. I weighed myself at the gym after 2 months and got to know that I had lost staggering 7 kilos! I literally started to look a bit thin. Well, the cycling helped me shed the corona kilos but why the heck was I feeling less energetic? That’s when I got to know that physical activity and exercise are two different things.
Exercise by definition is “planned, structured, repetitive and intentional movement of muscles to improve performance and enhance longevity.” Physical activity is just any movement carried out by muscles that require energy. When you exercise, you improve your muscle and your cardiovascular performance. In a physical activity like my cycling, you use only a specific set of muscles for a longer time. It’s not performance driven; you want to reach somewhere so you are adjusting your pace according to the time and not what’s optimum for your muscles and fitness. It’s like driving a car at high speed and braking hard. You are going to lose more energy and will reach a shorter distance compared to driving at an economic speed. In daily life, other than a workout, you can never do a physical activity at an optimum, economic pace.
There is a common trend these days that people wear a performance tracking bands. They set a daily goal of number of steps and when reached, it gives a sense of satisfaction that you have worked out for the day. We misunderstand it for a work out, it is nothing but a physical activity which results in exhaustion. Just like when I was able to do the 5 km ride easily, I reached a pseudo-fitness level where my body had just adjusted to the new level of physical activity. Rather than improving my health, that activity was drawing resources from my body. Activities like these do result in weight loss, but this measure of weight loss is superficial. It’s a common misconception that weight loss means you lose fat. Weight loss can also be a result of muscle loss which makes more sense when you start feeling tired easily, have fatigue and don’t recover quickly from an intense workout. Muscle loss is a dangerous tendency because in long run, it may affect your overall body posture.
Thus, it is important to stop following this trend and make time for actual exercising. It could be anything ranging from running, cycling or High Intensity Interval Training to aerobics, weightlifting or CrossFit. The key is to spend quality time exercising rather than finding alternatives to “burn calories”. Apart from it being a healthy practice and enhancing overall daily performance, exercising helps develop a healthy mindset. These pseudo fitness trends are just an excuse for the new, busy, workaholic lifestyle which is affecting our lives a lot. For people worried about me, now I have moved to a place closer to my university. It saves me lot of travelling time and energy which I now invest in proper workouts.
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Rohit is an ecologist who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Biosciences from Savitribai Phule Pune University. He wishes to devote his life to ecosystem conservation. In his free time, he worries and overthinks about the biggest problems in the world, especially climate change. He thinks that we are 4 Elon Musks away from saving this planet. Rohit is currently pursuing his Master’s from Wageningen University.
Dhaval is currently pursuing his bachelors in Microbiology. Both science and art are his passions. Creativity keeps him going. Scientific data visualization and communication have become the need of time and necessity, as well to break the wall between a lab and home. According to him, “Art is a beautiful reflection of Science, there is art in science and science in art”.