Let’s face it, many of us lead very sedentary lives. We sit to eat meals (at least, we ought to), we sit in our cars to get places, many of us sit at desks at work for much of the day, at home we sit to watch television or at our computers. Then we lie down and sleep. Research shows that even if you engage in regular exercise daily (say, 30 minutes of moderate walking), it might not be enough to counteract all that sitting—at least in regard to cardiovascular disease risk. But, there are other benefits of exercise, as we know, including helping with weight control, strengthening bones and muscles, and even boosting mood.
I like to exercise, and do so regularly right in my own basement. I’ve done it for years, but I know that “working out” doesn’t appeal to everybody. In fact, 2011 CDC figures show that only about 20% of adults aged 18+ meet guidelines for both aerobic and muscle strengthening activity. Maybe instead of looking at physical activity as something that requires a formal “exercise session,” we could just build more movement into our days.
Our bodies are meant to be moving. We have large muscle groups in our legs and backs for a reason! Our ancestors didn’t have the luxury of being sedentary—they walked everywhere, their daily chores like doing laundry and cooking were more physical, and their jobs were typically more physical as well. Use this idea as your inspiration and you can probably find ways to move more throughout the day. And don’t think that small amounts of activity don’t contribute to health—mini-breaks from sedentary activity have been shown to positively correlate with better blood triglyceride levels, blood glucose levels and smaller waist circumference measurements. Studies that track daily movement provide encouraging evidence that any amount of moving around is helpful health-wise. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Everybody has heard the advice to walk your dog regularly (both for your health as well as the dog’s of course), but what if you have no dog? Offer to walk a friend or neighbor’s canine.
- Set your phone to remind you to get up every hour while you’re at your desk. Then spend just one or two minutes doing some stretches, squats, jumping jacks, or using a set of elastic exercise bands that you keep in the desk drawer.
- Consider working at an elevated desk that requires you to stand (or even a treadmill desk). Some workplaces have shared standing desk areas that you can use even for just an hour, or to do some specific work tasks.
- Find reasons to get up off the couch while doing relaxing things at home. Don’t use the TV remote (“lose” it somewhere), dance in your living room during commercials, or make it your policy to walk around the house while on the phone instead of sitting.
- Do a small chore around your house each day that requires some movement effort. For example, dusting high shelves, light fixtures and ceiling fans, cleaning the tub or shower, vacuuming, organizing kitchen cupboards, wiping down the baseboards, washing a window or two, or dusting under the bed.
- Turn lunch breaks into social opportunities combined with walking. Ask your co-workers or friends to join you for a 15-20 minute brisk walk at lunchtime several days a week.
- One of my favorites: Find reasons to put things away (such as laundry, mail, shoes, your kids’ stuff) upstairs or downstairs frequently throughout the day. Bonus: your place will be less cluttered!
- Make it a habit to do “wall-sits” or squats while bushing your teeth.
- Use public transportation to get to work, if available (walk to the bus or train stop). Ride your bike or walk to do close-by errands or to pick up the kids from school.