This dimension of the wheel is quite comprehensive so I am going to split it into two posts. The first will focus on Exercise and Movement; then, I’ll follow up with a post on Sleep/Rest.
By now, you’ve probably heard that “sitting is the new smoking.” That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but research does show that prolonged sitting may be harmful, even if you exercise regularly. The more time we spend sitting — whether at a desk, on the couch or in the car — the greater the risk of premature death, cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. And unfortunately, even an hour at the gym every day, huffing and puffing on the treadmill, might not be enough to counteract the effects if you spend most of the rest of your time sitting.
One of my favorite fitness experts, Leslie Sansone, said it best on one of her walk at home DVDs: Our bodies are meant to move. Humans were not designed to be sedentary! We wouldn’t have all these wonderful bones, muscles and joints that allow the body to move in all directions. Unfortunately, as our world has evolved and society has developed more modern conveniences, the unintended consequence has been less overall movement for most of us. It’s not really anyone’s fault – it’s just what happened. The good news is we can do something about it. It just may take a little extra effort to make it happen.
Let’s talk about exercise first – and by exercise, I mean physical activity that you engage in on a regular basis for more than a few minutes at a time. It can be as simple as walking in your neighborhood or completing the CrossFit Workout of the Day. So, what is the best exercise? The one that you will do! Yes, it may sound cheesy and cliché, but it is true. Finding something that is fun and enjoyable for you is the most important thing. Why? You’ll stick with it. You don’t get stronger or fitter or leaner from exercising one time. You get stronger or fitter or leaner by exercising on a consistent basis. And it’s human nature to engage in activities that we enjoy doing. So maybe start by thinking about what activities or sports you enjoy – perhaps you like the challenge of training for a road race or maybe you prefer playing tennis with your spouse. Have fun experimenting until you find the activity (or activities) that work best for you.
Some of you may be looking for guidance on how long or how often to exercise. In general, most adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week, for general health and to maintain your current weight. This typically translates to about 30 minutes five days/week. To lose weight, the recommendation is 200-300 minutes of moderate intensity activity (with the greater amount typically leading to faster weight loss). This would mean closer to 45 minutes every day or 60 minutes five days/week. Moderate intensity is defined as activity that increases your heart rate and makes you break a sweat, such as brisk walking, cycling at lower speeds, water aerobics, etc. Everybody is different so it is a good idea to talk to your doctor if it’s been a while since you’ve exercised or if you have health issues that could limit your ability to participate in certain activities.
Perhaps more important than exercise though is the need to build regular movement into your day – particularly if your work or home life finds you sitting most of the time. There are some simple steps you can take to reduce sitting time, including:
- If you work at a desk or on a computer most of the day, stand up and/or walk around for a few minutes every hour (or even half-hour if possible).
- Consider a desk that lets you work both standing and sitting down. You could also explore a treadmill desk that allows you to walk slowly while you work.
- Park your car further away from the building so you’ll be able to walk more. Stand rather than sit if you ride the bus or subway.
- Try standing or doing chores while watching TV. Build in brief fitness breaks during commercials.
- Become less efficient – consider not multitasking to get more movement into your day. For example, pick up and put away one item in the house at a time instead of doing it all in one trip.
Adding short bursts of standing and movement like this will keep you from becoming an “active couch potato,” someone who exercises regularly and then remains largely sedentary the rest of the time. Think of fitness as something that entails what you do the entire day, not just during your workout.