Many of us spend on average 8+ hours sitting at our desks, traveling in planes, trains, and automobiles or on the couch; top that off with another 6-8 hours sleeping. That can add up to nearly 20 hours of sedentary sludge. Sitting invites stagnation and our fascia (the material protecting and supporting our body as a unit) begins to reshape so we start to take on the shape of our chairs. Our hips become tight, ankle movement diminishes, our shoulders push forward, we forget to engage our core as we slouch and collapse our lower back, and our necks crank towards the screen.
First, I don´t want to take for granted that everybody knows how much is enough exercise. To stay healthy or to improve health, adults need to do three types of physical activity each week: aerobic
exercises. If you want to read the full Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, here: health.gov
It can be challenging finding time to fit in errands, work, kids, home, exercise and the million other things to get done in a day. Time is the biggest barrier to an active lifestyle. Remove the expectation that the only way to get in shape is by going to the gym for an hour every day. This time commitment is simply not realistic for most of us.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. (See Mayo Clinic Web
). To find what´s “moderate activity” try the “talk test”, exercising hard enough to break a sweat but not so hard you can’t comfortably carry on a conversation. Vigorous activity makes you breathe hard and fast. At this level, you won’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath. You can combine moderate and vigorous exercise over the course of the week, and it’s fine to break up your activity into smaller bursts as long as you sustain the activity for at least 10 minutes. Ideas to add some walks to your day:
- Walk while talking on the phone or conduct walking meetings.
- Take stairs instead of escalators and elevators.
- Park in spaces furthest from the entrance.
- Use restrooms on a different floor or furthest from you.
- Use half or all of your lunch hour to take a walk with a colleague. Steve Jobs was at his most creative while walking and thinking outside in the park next to his office, and we can be, too. Apple’s founder knew that the body and mind respond to nature and to moving.
- Put on some good music and dance while cleaning the house!
Make a commitment to move at every opportunity, stand whenever you can!
The Department of Health and Human Services also recommends strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week. Studies have shown strength training to increase lean body mass, decrease fat mass, and increase resting metabolic rate. Weight training has also been shown to help fight osteoporosis.
Strength training doesn´t mean a gym membership. There are multiple ways to strengthen your muscles at home or at the workplace: bodyweight training, resistance bands, suspension training… Choose whatever best fit your abilities and preferences. At your desk, or anywhere you spend a good amount of time at, you can perform exercises such as
- push-ups and
- chair dips.
The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults engage in flexibility training two to three days per week, stretching major muscle and tendon groups.
I know all this exercise seems a lot from the point of view of busy people, but all of it only takes one hour, 4% of your day.
Remember, you can break up your activity into smaller bursts. If your job keeps you moving all day long, activity trackers (apps or wearables) are the simplest option to keep track of it. Forget daily steps and aim for at least 30 minutes of brisk walking. You do so, daily aerobic exercise is done.
Stretching at the workplace is something we all should do, but very few do. Whether you work behind a desk, drive for hours, or spend long hours standing (as waiters and watchmen), some muscles get tired and you feel stiffness, soreness, and at the end of the day, even pain. You can prevent this by taking a few 5 minutes breaks along the day to stretch and relax problematic areas like legs, lower back, shoulders, neck, and wrists. 3 little breaks and you´d be stretching 15 minutes every day. Examples of such stretches or postures can be:
- Doing core exercises.
- Stretching your legs and back when you are on your desk.
Using a door frame or anything sturdy to stretch your chest.
These stretches will reduce the negative effects that sitting has on your body. It also improves one’s quality of life.
Find an exercise schedule and activities that work for you so that you stay fit and healthy. Once you learn to make time – and it doesn’t have to be a monumental commitment – the benefits will outweigh any desire you may have had to sacrifice your health by staying on the sidelines. Keep in mind that it is possible to get all the exercise you need without using equipment, attending a class or going to the gym.
The most important key is to change the mindset. Exercise shouldn’t be a chore. It should be time for you. Don’t be afraid to make time for yourself. You are worth it!