Move More, Sit Less
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In past articles in this series on Eat Smart Move More Core Behaviors, we’ve discussed the evidence-based lifestyle behaviors that improve overall health – behaviors such as choosing healthy foods, eating less junk food, preparing healthier meals, increasing water intake, and getting enough quality sleep. In this article, we focus on moving more and sitting less.
One in four adults sits for over eight hours per day. This sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and the more sedentary a person is, the less likely they are to maintain a healthy weight. We know that just 30 minutes of physical activity a day, most days of the week, decreases the risks of diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Activity during the day helps us sleep better at night. It eases stress, aids in digestion, and improves mental health. The list of benefits is nearly endless. Yet, we still don’t move enough.
There are many reasons, and a hundred excuses, for not being as active as we should. For some people, physical activity is associated with past negative experiences, injuries, or fear. The word “exercise” may conjure up memories of P.E. class, calisthenics, running laps, or that aerobics class where everyone except you, it seemed, knew the dance steps. Time, inspiration, weather, and a host of other “excuses” prevent us from being active.
Re-thinking how we view activity or “exercise” may be helpful. Changing our approach or reconsidering how activity can be incorporated into our daily life, may open our minds to more positive thoughts about exercise. By definition, physical activity is any bodily movement that requires energy expenditure, whether it is for work or play, daily chores, or daily commuting. In other words, there are opportunities all day, every day, to move more.
As with any habit change, slow and steady is the best approach. Small changes are easier to implement and maintain, thus taking small steps toward a larger goal usually results in greater success in the long run. Light-intensity physical activity can be a beneficial first step in replacing sedentary behavior. Even short episodes of physical activity have proven immediate and long-term health benefits. Adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. This sounds like a lot , but divided among seven days, it’s only 21 minutes per day. Even when adults with chronic conditions or disabilities are not able to meet this recommended amount, they should engage in regular physical activity according to their abilities. Any amount of activity is beneficial.
If you still find it difficult to incorporate exercise into your schedule, there are two phrases to keep in mind that might help: “get fit 10 minutes at a time” and “make more active choices throughout your day”.
To make it more convenient to get 10 minutes of activity, always have a comfortable pair of shoes nearby. This way you are ready to walk around the building where you work, a nearby trail, or in your neighborhood whenever the opportunity arises. Grab a co-worker and go for a walking stress break or get the kids outside after dinner for a few laps around the house. Consider all the things you do during the day and look for opportunities to move more such as choosing stairs instead of elevators, parking farther away from buildings, or park and walk instead of using the drive-thru. What other tasks or leisure activities are part of your day? Screen time, phone calls, driving or riding in a vehicle? Think of these as moving moments rather than sitting moments. Keep a small pair of hand weights, a stress ball, or resistance bands to use while sitting. A gym filled with weights isn’t the only way to build strength. These small inexpensive tools used throughout the day can make a big difference in muscle strength and joint flexibility. For tasks that are normally done sitting down, try standing or stretching or even standing on one foot to improve balance.
Most people would benefit from sitting less and moving more. Unfortunately, for many people, it takes a medical emergency or health scare for habits to change. Start today, start now. Remember, small amounts of additional activity each day lead to big impacts on overall health.