By Lisa James | Edited by Elena Doxey
Balancing work, family and fitness can be challenging, but it’s so important to set a routine that allows you to get up and get moving as much as possible. Here’s why you should be sitting less.
Making Small, Daily Changes
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 80 percent of all Americans don’t get the weekly 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise recommended, at a minimum, to stay healthy. But what’s worse is that many people are parked in front of desks during the day and in front of screens during the evening – and all that sitting represents a health hazard of its own.
As harsh as it may sound, experts conclude that: “sitting is the new smoking.” As with smoking, the dangers posed by excessive sitting – such as increased risks for diabetes and heart disease – tend to develop slowly over time.
So, what’s the answer?
The key to achieving long-lasting results is making small, daily changes on a consistent basis. We need to make a conscious effort to get up, stand up, and move around more during the day. Getting that workout in before or after work is ideal, but even changing little habits throughout the day can get you to a better place.
Finding the Energy
One of the most common reasons people give for not getting up off the couch is: “I don’t have the energy.” Finding the motivation to overcome inactivity does require mental effort, but that’s a lot easier to accomplish if your body is properly fueled.
The first step is to find a diet that works for you. Popular options include the Mediterranean diet (heavy on fresh seafood and olive oil), and Paleo (which focuses on grass-fed meats, nuts and seeds). Both diets emphasize vegetables, and the Mediterranean also includes whole grains. No matter which diet you choose, drinking plenty of fresh, clean water is crucial.
Some people find protein shakes helpful, especially as meal replacements or sources of quick post-workout nutrition. These shakes get their protein from a variety of sources, which include blends of such plant-derived proteins as rice, quinoa, spirulina and flax seed (or rice, chia and pea).
Maximizing Movement at the Office
Scientists can’t pinpoint exactly how much time you should spend on your feet each day, but the idea is to start anywhere. Some say that you should take a break and stand up from your desk every 20-30 minutes. But even getting up from the desk for a minute or two every hour can help us feel better. And when we feel better, we make better choices.
If you work in an office, you already know how tedious it can be to sit at your desk all day. Here are some easy ways to work in some more steps and movement during your day:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Visit a restroom on a different floor
- Take a walk around your building every hour
- Stand up at your desk (there are standup desks – some attached to treadmills – as well as desks with adjustable heights)
Many of today’s employers encourage their employees to stay active during the workday. In fact, several studies show how sitting at your desk is one of the worst obstacles to productivity. Some companies are going the extra mile by offering fitness initiatives or organizing runs at local parks after work.
We can all relate to being tired after work, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t work in some extra movement. Here are some tips for ramping up your activity:
- Stroll along the sidelines at your child’s soccer or baseball game
- Wash your car with a bucket and hose
- Do vigorous housecleaning
- Walk your dog
- Cut your lawn with a push mower
- Walk on a treadmill or pedal a stationary bike while watching TV
- Play outside with your kids
- Push your baby in a stroller
- Care for a flower or vegetable garden
- Park as far away from stores as possible
Doing these kinds of actions increases NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), which is the energy that gets burned through physical activity outside of formal exercise. Experts say NEAT helps us to burn more calories throughout the day, which can add up over time. Standing for an additional two hours per day (instead of sitting) can burn enough calories for the average person to lose between six and seven pounds per year.
Exercising in Increments
It’s important to remember that our bodies crave physical activity. Start off slow and consistent and before you know it, you’ll be losing weight and developing a better sense of well-being. Additionally, you’ll have more energy to do the things you’ve been putting off because you were too tired to do them.
Interval training is a great way to help overcome the dangers of excessive sitting. This type of activity is popular with high-level athletics and involves spurts of alternating between gentle and rigorous exercise. Research shows you don’t have to spend hours exercising for it to be helpful. The idea is to bring circuit training to the average person who doesn’t want to be an athlete, but wants to be healthy and well.
One advantage of interval training is that many of the exercises (such as wall pushups and squats) require no equipment. Experts say there are many different movements you can do at or near your desk throughout your day which can make a dramatic difference in your well-being.
Getting up and out can put you in the right direction and add years to your life. Start off slowly and consistently. You’ll feel better knowing you’re getting out of your seat.