Reader’s Request: Does it count as cardio??

Hey hey hey 😀 How are ya?? I’m doing well despite the travel snags 😀

Here’s another reader’s request:

I live in San Francisco without a car. I spend much of my day climbing hills, walking a mile just to meet a friend, taking the stairs and otherwise hoofing it around town. The slopes here can be really steep. I’d say I walk an average of 2.5 miles a day getting to and fro, with many stairs and hills taken. How much of that should I consider genuine exercise? Can they be considered a work out at all? Am still hitting the gym, just wondering about the extra walking.

walkable5  (source)

I definitely consider a person lucky when they get to be active throughout the day and don’t spend most of their time sitting down. I’m fortunate to be one of those people who has spent most of their life on their feet, whether through teaching dance, retail management and now teaching aerobics and working as a trainer. The thing is, my body has become used to this higher activity level. I can’t count all of the extra moving around that I do as actual exercise as it’s just part of my everyday activity level. The bonus when you’re active is that you’re burning more calories throughout the day, and do not need to go crazy on the cardio. However, you do need to make yourself sweat everyday and since the walking to and fro is sporadic, I don’t imagine that it would require too much additional effort if you’re used to it.

The thing is, your body is a very intelligent machine and gets used to routine quickly. If you walk the same route, the same stairs, day after day, before long your body will adapt to the routine and while you’re burning extra calories from being active, it will become part of the “norm”. In order for change to occur (fat burning, lean muscle development, health and fitness gains), one needs to continuously change their routine to prevent their body from kicking into cruise control. That’s why it’s still important to include various cardio intensities into your workout routine, alternating between hills, intervals and steady state.

While I worked retail management, I was on my feet walking around the department store for at least 10 hours each day. During this stressful black hole in my life, I switched the focus to weight training and reduced my cardio from 5-6 days a week to 3, and just made sure to switch it up. On the other hand, I also worked at a desk as a finance intern for one summer and was on my booty for 9 hours each day. During this time, I really kicked up the cardio because I was not active at all during the day and my body was used to being active/ I did weights 3 times each week and alternated spinning, running and walking, 6 days each week.

working_girl  (source)

So am I saying that you need to go buck wild with the cardio if you work at a desk all day? No, no, NO. You just need to do something that’s outside of the scope of your every day activities to keep your body guessing and provoke change. So any cardio is a good thing, especially if you’re sedentary during work hours. You need at least 20 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio every day for health benefits, and I recommend 30-60 minutes of varying cardio intensities 3-5 times each week for fitness gains. I tell my clients to do 2 miles every day, whether on the treadmill, elliptical or bike.  As always, make sure to fuel yourself accordingly and prevent overtraining. If you’re exhausted, sore, dreading the gym, don’t do it.

Stayed tuned for a reader’s request on desk toning moves and stretches 😀

If you have any requests for a post that would be applicable to other Fitnessistas out there, please send them my way!

Happy training,


Something to talk about: Do you work at a desk, or are you on your feet most of the day?? What’s your favorite type of cardio? I’m usually on my feet unless I’m working on the laptop and I love all cardio, especially spin and Zumba. I’m not a big fan of swimming because err, I’m more of a floater than a swimmer 😉

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  1. Michelle@Eatingjourney on January 7, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    I have a new rule in my life…5x week either 30 minutes of running or 60 minutes of walking.

    I have noticed that if I add 30 min of intense cardio the weight comes off and I feel GREAT!

    Thanks for this.

  2. dotsie on January 7, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    I sit ALL day, and it HURTS. I workout before work–and sometimes after. I just need to MOVE, ya know? Sometimes that evening working is just for stress relief, but I have to do it-clears my head.

    Fave cardio=walking and cycling–both indoors and out.

    • Fitnessista on January 7, 2010 at 9:14 pm

      when i worked at a desk for those two months, i COULDN’T WAIT to get to spin class and shake it all out! it definitely feels so good to move

  3. Lily @ Lily's Health Pad on January 7, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    I pretty much sit at a desk all day long. It can be torturous! My absolute favorite cardio is the Les Mills program Body Attack. Unfortunately, I moved and the classes aren’t offered in my area. I’m in serious withdrawal. 🙁

  4. Nicole on January 7, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    I am up and down all day sitting and standing, since I am a teacher. I love going to spin 1x a week and running 2 or 3 others. Hope you have a wonderful vaca!

  5. Jessica @ How Sweet It Is on January 7, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    Working at a gym and being on my feet all day makes me happy and = more food for me! Yum! 🙂

  6. maggie b on January 7, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    hey! this is off topic, but how often do you weight train?? Do you spend much time doing leg exercises, or do you relay on yoga, zumba, running, etc to tone your legs?? Is doing upper body weights 3 times a week enough/or too much???


    • Fitnessista on January 7, 2010 at 9:42 pm

      hey maggie b,
      you don’t need to do upper body 3 times a week- i usually do legs one day (take it kind of easy), shoulders chest triceps one day and back and biceps the third day.

  7. Katie O. @ Fit to Wed on January 7, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    I sit at a desk all day, which I’ve pretty much done since entering grad school in ’04. I’m definitely a fidgety person and get up at least once an hour to walk around/use the restroom/etc. Running is my release from all of the sitting!

  8. Amanda on January 7, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Ughh I sit at a desk all day!! Often, I’ll take lunch at my desk just so that I can get out and walk around a bit! I work in a city, so I’ll try to get out for a 30 minute walk mid-day .. I tackle some errands and clear my head, too! Favorite exercises – running (outside only, not on the treadmill), yoga, spinning!

  9. Katie on January 7, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    I sit at a desk all day working on my grad school thesis and I hate it! I’m almost done with it and it’s definitely something I will think about in my job search. I usually can’t wait to get some cardio in my life after a long day and go for just about anything, but especially spinning or running outdoors.

  10. Jenna on January 7, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Very helpful Gina!!

  11. Lori on January 7, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    I have a very sedentary job transcribing, and I have to sit still to do it. That’s why I love my morning workouts. My very favorite cardio in the whole world is biking. I just wished I lived where I could do it year round!

  12. Nicci@NiftyEats on January 7, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    I gained most of my weight when I first got a desk job, I had to remember to work out more, but now I’m good. I do cardio 3-4 week, running and Yoga.

  13. Brie (The Fit Bride) on January 7, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    Spin-off question: What do you think of NEAT? (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, basically the “take the stairs” and “park farther away” theory.) Is it a lazy person’s excuse for not exercising or worthy of consideration? I know this is kind of a similar question, but I’m not sure how I feel about these kinds of “tips” that are popping up everywhere after the new year!

    That said, I work at a desk job. I actually don’t mind it, because when I sit all day I have lots of pent-up energy to work out at the gym.

    • Fitnessista on January 8, 2010 at 10:43 pm

      i think neat is a great way to burn a few extra calories but definitely shouldn’t be an exercise substitute

  14. Teri on January 7, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    I sit all day at work. I love running and spinning to get out my pent up energy. I’ve also found yoga helps me handle the long sitting stretches since I have better posture and pay more attention to my body. When the weather is decent (i.e. not FREEZING like now), I take a 15-20 minute power walk in the morning and afternoon; I call it my anti-smoke breaks since lots of co-workers take smoke breaks. 🙂 It helps me wake up, burns some energy, and gives me some time to unwind during the day.

  15. Jessica (Fit and Clean) on January 7, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    I have to watch about the overtraining. I will go and go, and then eventually get injured and not want to go. Now that I’m training for the half, I’ve had to give up some of my classes, even though I don’t want to, because it’s too hard on my legs for example, to run one day, step class the next, then run the day after. I found that out today! It’s always a learning experience!

  16. Danielle (Coffee Run) on January 7, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    I’m a student so I get to walk around campus all day (as well as spend a lot of time on my butt). I def. don’t consider all the walking as “cardio.” Although it may be burning calories, all the benefits of cardio (i.e. stronger immune system, lower cholesterol, etc.) come from getting your <3 rate up! Walking doesn't really get my <3 rate up…

  17. Ashley @ Good Taste. Healthy Me on January 7, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    I am stuck at a desk allll day so I focus largely on cardio. I know that strength training is important too so I really need to put that into my routine more often!

  18. MeggyD on January 7, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    I work at a desk and am on my tush all day long! I try to take my lunch to work out, but the days I can’t take a lunch, by the time I get home – I’m trying to make dinner, clean up messes and rest – leaving no time, motivation or energy for work outs. I definitely feel like crap the days I don’t work out.

  19. Aletheia on January 7, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    As a college student I walk back and forth to school everyday, as well as between classes, up flights of stairs and such, but it’s true – it doesn’t really count as a real cardio workout because it’s sporadic. It doesn’t get my heart pumping in the wicked way that running (or other forms of vigorous exercise) does, and it’s definitely not sustained.

    At the same time, I realize it IS something, and definitely find that it does help to walk in between meals, so I try to be economical with my time (and my energy) by decreasing the amount of time I spend on the elliptical/treadmill accordingly. I usually do at least 50-60 minutes of cardio at a time on “sedentary” days, but if I’m walking around a lot, I’ll aim for maybe 40 minutes.

  20. Caroline on January 8, 2010 at 12:22 am

    Oooo im on my feet ALL DAY!! Working in SF as a aerobics instructor/trainer and walking EVERYWHERE! They dont lie when they tell you SF is one of the most active cities in the world 🙂

    Favorite cardio: RUNNING! swimming, cycling 🙂

    Any luck with the emails Gina? Have a great trip to Tuscon!

    • Caroline on January 8, 2010 at 12:24 am

      just want to make sure they went through – ive been having some serious email issues lately :/ Thanks again for such an inspiring blog!!

    • Fitnessista on January 8, 2010 at 10:42 pm

      yup, i got them. i’m going to keep working on the email stash i have waiting for me when we get back from tucson 🙂

  21. Run Sarah on January 8, 2010 at 1:34 am

    I am running around all day and try to take the stairs. I don’t consider it cardio per se, but it is definitely burns more calories than sitting all day although it doesn’t get my HR up like a good workout.

  22. Jess on January 8, 2010 at 5:12 am

    I work a desk job but I also don’t drive so I do a lot of walking daily. Usually I walk over an hour a day (about 4-5 miles) in addition to a pretty rigourous training program, so I don’t count the walking as exercise.

    However, when I was in college I walked even more (about 2 hours a day) and did very little other exercise and I felt like it was enough for me at the time. I wasn’t in as good of shape as I am now but I felt healthy and if that’s your goal I’d say you can definitely count walking. Especially if you’re doing lots of hills. I walk pretty fast and I’ve worn my HRM on walks with lots of hills and registered an average of 150 BPM. It doesn’t have all the same benefits of cardio but it can get your heart pumping pretty good.

  23. Kalli@fitandfortysomething on January 8, 2010 at 8:52 am

    Good information! I walk to work and back everyday and was wondering about how much it counts. The great thing is is that I went down a whole size just from doing this!

  24. Jenny on January 8, 2010 at 9:25 am

    I’m a student so most of my time is spent sitting, and I sporatically walk to and from commuter parking most days. I enjoy working out, so I make sure to fuel properly in order to get to go to the gym.

    I LOVE spin!

  25. Heather @ The Joyful Kitchen on January 8, 2010 at 10:49 am

    i’m on my tush pretty much all day, so i try to do cardio on my hour lunch break (walking or running). I love doing all cardio though, and weight training is fun too…it’s just trying to fit them into a crazy schedule that’s the hard part! 🙂

  26. Brigid on January 8, 2010 at 10:54 am

    I work a desk job. Swimming, dancing and using the elliptical are my favorite forms of cardio. I’m trying to befriend running, but it’s a slow process.

  27. Lisa on January 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    I work at a desk job; but have to get up every so often to move around. (Can’t stand to sit long.) I like to walk with my dogs and do the elliptical. I like to swim in the summer too.

  28. brittney on January 8, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Heyyy, that’s my reader request! Awesome.

    I had a hunch Gina’s info is right, and I wanted to share my personal store that cements that fact:

    When I moved to SF from Tennessee, I got rid of my car and suddenly walked EVERYWHERE. Just moving to a more urban area and using my feet instead of wheels knocked 20, yes 20, pounds off my overweight frame.

    Since I have become accustomed to the walking the weight loss stopped. I didn’t gain it back, but it leveled off. So, she’s right! My body is a smart machine and has compensated for the extra activity.

    Sigh. Gym it is. 🙂

  29. Nikki on January 8, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    I sit at a desk all day too (*sigh*). We have noontime workout classes AT WORK. T/TH 20 min abs/20 min weights; Wed 45 min Yoga. they are an awesome way to get a quick workout in!

  30. arthritistreatment on January 11, 2010 at 2:06 am

    Everyday i would do at least an hour of Cardio workout and this routine alone helped me regain my lean body. Cardio is really good for burning down the extra fats you get on your tummy.

  31. Bessa on July 27, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    I go for a 10 minute run every day and go on a 40 minute walk 6 or 5 times a week usually up hill, Would you say that’s enough cardio?

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