What are you doing right now, while you’re reading this article?
Since many people are still sheltering in place, the odds are good that you are seated in a chair or sprawled on a sofa. And that’s a problem: Excessive sitting just isn’t good for you.
Why You Need to Move More
For thousands of years we had no problem getting all the activity we needed.
“We wouldn’t be having this conversation 100 years ago,” says fitness consultant Sean Foy, MA, author of The Burst! Workout (Workman). “Back then, people didn’t have to exercise—they were constantly moving throughout the day.”
The simple answer—get up and move around more—can be as challenging as it is obvious.
Thanks to labor-saving devices such as escalators, elevators and remote controls, “we’ve engineered physical activity out of our lives completely,” says Peter Katzmarzyk, PhD, of Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center. “We are not designed to be sitting all the time.”
Figure you’re covered because you exercise on a regular basis? Wrong.
“Even people who get 30 minutes of activity a day, if they sit for long periods of time they’re still at risk,” says Katzmarzyk. He notes that not moving enough tends to cause “problems with glucose metabolism as well as with cardiovascular fitness.”
Foy puts it simply: “Sitting is the new smoking.”
The good news? You can take small steps to become more active in everyday life.
Scientists aren’t sure how exactly much time should you spend on your feet each day—the idea is to start anywhere. “When we move more we feel better, when we feel better we make better choices,” says Foy.
To build more movement when you’re working from home:
- Get up once or twice an hour and walk quickly five times throughout your house or apartment; if you have access to stairs, use them, too
- Try sitting on a ball at your desk instead of a regular chair (you can switch off between seats you need to)
- Invest in a standup or sit/stand desk
Other motion-enhancing ideas include:
- Washing your car with a bucket and hose
- Doing vigorous housecleaning
- Walking your dog
- Cutting your lawn with a push mower
- Walking on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bike while watching TV
- Playing with your kids outside
- Pushing your baby in a stroller
- Caring for a flower or vegetable garden
- Parking as far away from stores as possible
These sorts of actions increase the amount of energy you burn through physical activity outside of formal exercise.
That, in turn, “helps us to burn more calories throughout the day, which adds up over time,” explains Jacque Ratliff, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “By standing up for an additional two hours per day, instead of sitting those two hours, the average person can lose between six and seven pounds per year.”†
It helps to remember exactly how much our bodies crave physical activity, including exercise, to stay healthy.
After Nancy Burnham’s 2007 retirement she found herself “taking five different prescription medications. I was very much overweight,” the Lilburn, Georgia, resident recalls. “So I walked into a gym and took control of my own health.”
Now 67, Burnham found that her five-day-a-week gym habit paid off. “Within a year I had come off all my meds and I had lost 30 pounds. I no longer suffered with chronic back pain,” she says. Her experience motivated her to become an ACE-certified trainer.
Exercising in Increments
What keeps people from following in Burnham’s footsteps?
“The number-one barrier is the perception of the lack of time—and for many people it is a reality,” says Foy. “One woman at a conference came to me afterwards and said, ‘I’m stuck. I’ve tried everything. I have lost the same 60 pounds 20 times. I’ve got kids and two jobs.’”
Taking baby steps towards fitness is feasible, however.
Lee Jordan, 50, of Jacksonville Beach, Florida, started slow out of necessity. “At that time I was just over 450 pounds and connected to oxygen,” he says. “I started with 30 seconds of exercise, walking down a hallway outside of my apartment.”
Now down to 187 pounds, Jordan, like Burnham, was inspired to become a second-career fitness trainer. He uses the same approach that worked for him with other people.
“Start small, be consistent,” he counsels. “I started with 30 seconds and increased by 30 seconds each day.”
Jordan says his clients have seen similar results. “My first client was a single mother of four; now she lives a free life after losing 200 pounds,” he notes. “The underlying principal is that by starting in a small way, all things are possible.”
It also appears that alternating gentle and vigorous exercise in spurts—a technique known as interval training, long used in high-level athletics—can help overcome the dangers of excessive sitting.
“The research shows you don’t have to spend hours and hours exercising for it to be helpful,” says Foy. “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.” In fact, many of the exercises Foy recommends in The Burst! Workout, such as wall pushups and squats, require no equipment.
One of the best ways to ease into exercise is by taking regular walks. “Find a walking route that is easily accessible,” suggests Ratliff. “Put it in your calendar and make sure you have a buddy who will help hold you accountable.” Wear good walking shoes and remember to stretch your calves afterward.
How Fitness Trainers Get Fit
Both Nancy Burnham and Lee Jordan developed exercise schedules that suited them.
Burnham was such a newbie that “somebody had to show me how to operate a treadmill,” she says. But she stuck with it, going to the gym five days a week and starting “with the trainer three times a week. I did simple movements, just getting all joints in better working condition.”
Burnham’s routine consisted of 15 minutes warmup, 30 minutes intense workout and 15 minutes cool-down; over the course of three days she would do heavy leg work, then concentrate on her back and then a general workout. “That was my three-day routine. I always gave myself a day off to rest,” she says.
In six months, Burnham lost about 10 pounds. “But those 10 pounds really were not as significant to me as feeling how much more energy I had, and the pain became less and less,” she says, noting that it wasn’t always easy. “There were days I would say to myself, ‘This is work. This something I have to be committed to. I have more to do in life than feeling crappy and being in pain every day.’ Every day I went I gave it everything I had.”
Her newfound well-being led Burnham to become a trainer after telling herself, “I have to get older adults to get up and get moving.” Her background allows Burnham to relate well to her peers: “As one of my clients says, ‘She knows the old bones.’”
Lee works out six days a week, first thing in the morning. “I’m a big believer in interval training,” he says. “Run a quarter-mile, do a series of bodyweight exercises, do another quarter-mile, more exercises, repeat another two quarters, then run back a mile slow.” The one piece of equipment Lee does favor is the BOSU, a half-ball on a platform.
As a result of his efforts, Lee “can bike over 20 miles. I do half-marathons. I’ve never been stronger, faster or had more endurance my entire life.”
Lee turned his less-is-more fitness approach into a program he calls 30 Seconds to Victory. “I focus on people who have to lose 100, 200, 300 pounds,” he says, adding that some of his clients couldn’t leave the house or even wear shoes when they began training with him.
Lee finds great satisfaction in his work: “This has been a life-changing experience, the difference I get to make in people’s lives.”
Energy for Exercise
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 inertia 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 Mediterranean, heavy on fresh seafood and olive oil, and Paleo, which focuses on grass-fed meats, nuts and seeds. (Both emphasize vegetables; 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, among them Paleo-friendly blends of such plant-derived proteins as sunflower, flax, pumpkin, almond and coconut. Better-quality products use organic, non-GMO sources.
Several nutrients are required for proper energy generation. The B vitamins are well-known is this regard, as is coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), now available in a readily absorbable form called ubiquinol. D-ribose, a form of sugar the body makes naturally, is used in supplement form to boost exercise capacity.†
Some herbs have long been used to support healthy energy levels, including such stress-fighters as ginseng, eleuthero and rhodiola. Catuaba, a Brazilian herb, has been found to help support the body’s energy-creation capacity.†
†The information provided is not an endorsement of any product, and is intended for educational purposes only. NaturesPlus does not provide medical advice and does not offer diagnosis of any conditions. Current research on this topic is not conclusive and further research may be needed in order to prove the benefits described.
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.