We all know how vital exercise is for maintaining physical and mental health and reducing disease risk. Routinely incorporating into your life heart-pumping cardiovascular exercise – for example, walking or running, biking or spinning, dancing, swimming or playing a sport – and muscle-building strength training has countless perks. It can help you perform better at work or school, lift your mood and help you handle stressors better. It can also improve your sleep and help you manage your weight.
Exercising outdoors or while listening to music can also have benefits that exceed those to your muscles and your waistline. And trying new activities from time to time and seeing the progress you make can give you positive reinforcement and motivation to continue to make physical activity a necessary and important part of your life.
But while engaging in regular exercise can certainly help you stay healthy, it may not be enough. "While we have long recognized the positive health effects of moving your body, we are now beginning to appreciate that lack of movement (i.e. sitting) has many negative effects on your body," says James Hill, executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado and co-author of the new book, "State of Slim."
Some studies suggest that prolonged or excessive sitting is linked with an increased risk of everything from heart disease and diabetes to obesity – and even death. And while meeting current physical activity guidelines can certainly help you stay active, that doesn't mean you're not also spending a lot of time sitting – potentially harming your bottom line. In fact, a recent study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that among relatively healthy 40- to 75-year-old women, participating in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was unrelated to time spent sitting each day.
For optimum health, Hill recommends a two-pronged strategy – to get regular daily physical activity and to limit the amount of time you sit. I concur!
If you're a regular reader of the Eat + Run blog, you know my colleagues and I provide guidance and motivation to help you – among other things – to "move it or lose it." I've shared with you some no-gym-required fitness tips as well as my favorite fitness apps. And fellow Eat + Run blogger Monica Nelson recently shared her tips to help you overcome a workout rut.
But how do you find the time to spend less time on your duff and more time on your feet – especially when your life is like a treadmill, filled with carpools, commutes and events and activities that require sitting for what sometimes feels like an eternity?
Here are five of my "Stressipes," stress-fighting lifestyle remedies, to help you – even if you're a regular exerciser – spend less time sitting and more time moving:
1. Track your stats. For one week, keep track of how many minutes you sit or lie down during each 24-hour day. Use your smartphone or any stopwatch or an app (like the one for the Jawbone Up) to monitor your idle time whether you're at work, at home or out and about. Once you know your daily average, you can aim to gradually reduce you're inactive time – cutting even a half hour daily adds up to three and a half hours a week, and 182 hours a year!
2. Assess your habits. Do you commute by car, bus, train or taxi? If you travel by car, perhaps you can stop to stand and stretch or take a short walk for even five to 10 minutes for every hour you spend en route to work. If you commute by bus or train, at least some of the time, walk to and from the bus or train stop or get off one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way. If it's safe to do so, stand – or even pace – for a few minutes during the ride.
If you feel glued to a desk at home or at work, set an alarm to go off at the same time every hour as a reminder to get up and move. And instead of emailing or texting a colleague, family member or friend at work (or even at home – you know you do it), walk to the person instead. And walk while you talk on the phone.
3. Redefine your "dates." Instead of meeting a friend for a long or formal sit-down breakfast or lunch, grab something to go. After you sit and enjoy your meal, use the time you saved by taking a short post-meal walk.
When spending time with friends, family or your significant other, choose at least one non-sitting activity. For example, instead of dinner and a movie, have dinner followed by something more active like bowling, walking around a museum or taking an evening stroll. Or do a fitness class and then grab a bite to eat afterwards. If you really want to see a movie or do another sedentary activity, make sure to add a stroll before – or walk to and/or from – the activity.
4. Sit in the hotseat. If you spend hours and hours at a desk at work and find it a big challenge to move more, consider Hotseat – a mobile and web-based workplace wellness tool designed to decrease sedentary behavior. It helps you create a two-minute break schedule and provides gentle reminders throughout the day. A two-month study by the American Heart Association of its employees and their guests found that among 250 users, 76 percent were more mindful of the time they spent sitting and 67 percent took more activity breaks throughout the day since using Hotseat.
5. Wear comfortable shoes. Whether you're at a work conference, business meeting, cocktail or other party or commuting, wearing comfortable shoes is a must. If you stop blaming your feet for your inactivity and take some time to test-drive and invest in a few pairs of high-quality, comfortable shoes with different heights and styles, you're sure to sit less and move more in no time!
What do you routinely do to sit less and move more?
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns, and feedback.
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and president of Zied Health Communications, LLC, based in New York City. She's an award-winning registered dietitian and author of three books including Nutrition At Your Fingertips. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and New York University, Zied inspires others to make more healthful food choices and find enjoyable ways to "move it or lose it" through writing, public speaking, and media appearances. She writes the twice-weekly blog, The Scoop on Food, for Parents.com, and her new book, Younger Next Week, will be published by Harlequin Non Fiction on December 31, 2013. You can connect with her on Twitter and through her website: www.elisazied.com.