How Much Exercise Do You Get From Partying & Dancing?

Photo-Illustration: The Cut. Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/ Corbis via Getty Images

“Hot Bod” is a weekly exploration of fitness culture and its adjacent oddities.

“Oh, you move so much,” my friend tells me when I asked, two weeks ago, if partying can possibly be considered exercise. “That night I went out by myself last week, I got in 12,000 steps! I woke up starving.” This friend, a former spin instructor, is also famous for a magnificent knees-on-the-ground floor-worship “moment” at parties and I’d love nothing more than to see how the fitness tracker accounts for this type of muscular dance-floor prowess.

So the next Friday, on her instruction, I retrieve my trusty Apple Watch and strap it up on my way to my first public party outing in three lifetimes. I also wear a bright-red tiny yoga shirt, to remind me that I can be all things at all times. The watch absolutely loves my respectable bike ride to the party, but that’s not what we’re there for! We’re there to see how far and fast I go on the dance floor, how strong and sturdy and low I get among strangers. Fastidious about methodology, I toggle my workout mode from “biking” to “dancing” and prepare for Apple to capture all my subtle-yet-distinctive hip swivels.

Then, waiting to present my vaccine card to the bouncer, I get self-conscious about my Apple Watch and decide to hide it in my pocket until I’m anonymous on the dance floor. I never remember to put it back on.

But don’t worry, I am indefatigable now that I have a full week of excursions to monitor. The next afternoon my lapsed spin instructor friend, after hearing that I danced my little heart right into the ground, texts me: “Bang bang?” She wants to see if I will to come to the gay club with her and her Cross-Fit hunk girlfriend. Of course I do! Every outing, so far, has been the best place I’ve ever been to in my life; I will go to each of them. And the fitness tracker is still charged from the night before and ready to measure my accomplishments.

But we’re all jumping the line here: If going out is to be assessed as working out, what is working out? Is it strength-building and muscle development? Cardiovascular effort? Is it receiving a compliment on your good form from a stranger? (Because the parties are now full of people obviously appreciating each other, with passing compliments that would make a voluble Peloton instructor take notes.) Is working out a quest for endorphins? Is it an expulsion of knotted tension? Is it simply working up a sweat?

It’s all of these, in whatever combination you’d like, of course! I’ve never quite understood why working out equates to being virtuous. Have you seen the hip thrusts we’re asked to do? They’re deeply ’70s porn! A gyration is a gyration wherever it takes place. “And you have to hold a squat for so long over the toilet when you pee at bars,” my college friend points out before we leave for a place we loved six years ago. “You can do little isometric movements during it, because you have to pee for so long!”

I assume most muscular work is in the gluteal and thigh region, though I’ve also hurt my abs from laughing so much. After an afternoon-sunset rooftop rave-lite (where I forget my fitness tracker, but my phone tells me I’ve achieved “4.2 miles” of dancing), my shins feel hollow. My college friend wears Reeboks and has no sympathy. I look at a few photos and see that nearly everyone but me wore a flat sneaker of sorts.

The Apple Watch has already provided me with strong data. While I’m in a dance-cardio workout, my heat rate usually hits about 120 BPM; while I’m on the dance floor, it just once scraped 96, even though there are so many handsome people racing my heart. Second of all, the efficiency is trash. I take breaks constantly! For a dedicated workout, I usually exercise for about 45 minutes. And while I stay out dancing until someone tells me to go home, I’m only dancing for like 15 minutes at a time. What am I doing, so distracted? Going to talk to people? The sum of all my cardio from each night — all the hearty, abductor-employing dancing — doesn’t typically add up to much more than 60 minutes. The most impressive sum I hit is two and a half hours.

“And how do uppers affect things?” my beloved ex-roommate asks as we invent a villainous Campari drink at her apartment. While I do not expect the tracker to account for the tiny amount of industrial strength uppers we take, I assume I can’t interpret my heart rate as honestly earned. However, I remember a boxer I once hooked up with used this very same upper to give her energy to train for matches, so I’ve always affectionately thought of it as a little athletic, in a cheating, slick and evil sort of way. My former roommate, her new boyfriend, my partner and I spend the night careening to six bars, two of them twice, propelled by our sumptuous indecision.

Though I know my cardio was mostly speed-walking, I check my progress on my fitness tracker the next morning, to find that, of course, I lost my watch. I scroll onto the workout app like a sleuth and see that I was last wearing it while enjoying my fourth inconsistent cardio spike, I believe at the fourth bar.

This loss is perhaps my greatest lesson: that nightlife fitness exists but it’s hard to measure. In fact, it doesn’t really want to be measured at all. It’s flighty and it’s in the shadows and moody lighting for a reason. Dancing vehemently must be interrupted by chatting loudly in a beloved’s ear. I am overwhelmed easily and I have to take a pause in the smoker’s alley with my new friend to calm down. There are all these people and their outfits and their motivating cruising glances. The simple pleasure of wandering room to room among people! It’s incredible! It also means I need many rests — one could call it a cool-down — and I need to take many of them. Perhaps my evenings are more break than action. But I keep returning and, perhaps, I’m getting back my stamina.