This January, you may plan to be part of the enthusiastic masses that flood the local gyms in the pursuit of better fitness. Unfortunately, the odds are that by mid-February, your interest in pumping iron or sweating out your “toxins” in a spin class will have likely waned.
As a modern population, we are a highly inactive bunch. If you’re a woman over 50, the probability that you are sedentary is higher than most. Unfortunately, as women age, activity levels take a steep downward slide, and our resultant chronic disease risk climbs. Add in the health impacts related to being post-menopausal and we have a perfect storm for ill health.
And yet we all know that we need to exercise to reduce these risks. When you are active for 150 minutes a week, your risk of cardiovascular disease, many types of cancer, and dementia all decrease dramatically. There’s good evidence that your bone health, mental health, and sleep quality also improve.
If we all know that being active has so many health benefits, why is it so tough to start and maintain regular exercise? Maybe the change that we are trying to make is just too significant. Simply put, there is a giant leap between modern lifestyles that are totally car-dependent and mostly inactive and regular moderate to vigorous exercise. In our rush to fulfill our New Year’s resolutions, we miss a crucial step that should come before signing on to a gym membership.
Modern automation has made our lives so much more comfortable, but it’s also wreaking havoc on our health. The first step in getting fit should be to “de-automate” our lives wherever possible. Positioned between a sedentary lifestyle and the squat rack is what we call light daily activity.
Just about everyone needs more movement throughout our day. Extended time seated is associated with an increased risk of many different types of chronic illness and a higher likelihood of any cause of death, even in those who exercise regularly. Essentially, by breaking up our sitting time and moving more throughout the day, we are taking what’s equivalent to a potent preventative medication.
Through increasing your light daily activity, you can more easily start to get fit this January. You can do this without much disruption to your existing schedule. Light activity also leads more seamlessly to moderate or vigorous exercise down the road. Here are some things to consider.
If you’re looking for ways to increase your activity, start in your home. Home-based activities like house cleaning, climbing stairs, and yard work all can add up to a significant amount of energy (and calories) if done in regular bouts. Who would have thought that we would recommend going back to the drudgery of more manual chores to improve your health?
Regular light housework can not only help you to break-up your sitting time but also serves to provide more of that light activity that your good health so desperately needs.
Outside of the home, think about how you are getting around. Keep in mind that our love affair with our cars is also slowly killing us. Plan to take the bus more often; the average transit trip requires a 10-minute walk on either end of the route. By switching out your car for transit for just three days could add another 90 minutes of activity to your week. Transit riders also do more periodic moderate to vigorous exercise – sit at a popular bus stop long enough and I guarantee you will see lots of runners.
Swear off escalators and elevators. Rather than buying an expensive gym membership, commit only to take an automated ride when there are no stairs available. Unfortunately, you will likely find yourself alone on the climb to the top.
To increase your activity further, move up to adding in a brisk 10-minute walk after a meal. Do this for five days, and you’ll have found another 50 minutes of exercise in your week.
Small daily activities, done with intention and quantified regularly, may be your path to regular exercise. Start your 2020 with a commitment to move more and sit less. Your seat on the spin bike will be there waiting for you in the spring.
Your sister in health,
 DIAZ, K. M., HOWARD, V. J., HUTTO, B., COLABIANCHI, N., VENA, J. E., BLAIR, S. N., & HOOKER, S. P. (2016). Patterns of Sedentary Behavior in US Middle-Age and Older Adults: The REGARDS Study. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 48(3), 430–438.
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