So you go to the gym 3 times per week, like your doctor told you to. You lift some weights and jog on the treadmill for 30 minutes, do some abs, and call it a day.
You had a good workout, so now it’s ok if you just sit at your desk for the next 8 hours, and then in front of your TV for 2 more, right?
Unfortunately, not so much.
Yes, it is important and recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine that we get a certain amount of exercise per week, but those 30 minutes per day of moderate exercise won’t create the change that many of us are looking for. Any movement is better than no movement, but it’s also important to think about the rest of your day when you’re not in the gym.
I’m certainly not saying that you’re entire day needs to be spent on your feet or at a treadmill desk, but it is important to get in regular movement throughout your day, not just a 30 minute block at the beginning or end.
The movement fallacy.
Many people believe that if they get a workout in on a given day, it gives them the freedom to move less for the rest of the day, or to eat whatever they want for the rest of that day. Unfortunately, that’s just not true. A 30 minute moderate workout may only burn about 200-300 calories — the same amount of calories in one medium sized apple. Doesn’t seem so significant when you put it like that, does it? Regular exercise is an important component of a healthy lifestyle, but what I find to be just as important is the amount of low intensity “lifestyle” movements you do throughout the day as well. In other words, we need to be more understanding of the difference between exercise and simple activity or daily movement, and the necessity of both in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
These daily movements come in the form of walking, standing, moving from place to place, even just standing for a periodic stretch break if you can’t actually get away from your desk at work. We’ve all been told a thousand times now that those long periods spent sitting are literally killing us, but we’re also told that 30 minutes per day of exercise will counteract that. Breaking up your sitting times at regular intervals throughout the day is a great way to ensure that you’re moving enough to make an impact on your health and your longevity.
So how can we move more throughout the day? It’s more than just picking a parking spot a little bit farther away; sometimes we need to be a little bit more deliberate than that. The following are 4 of the most consistent strategies that I use throughout my day to move a little bit more, a little bit at a time.
- Pretend the escalators/elevators aren’t even there. Trust me, there are days when I’m exhausted and want someone to just push me home in a wheelchair. But I would say 99% of the time, if I’m coming out of the train station or going to one of my offices, I’m taking the stairs. Even when I’m tired, even when others are hopping on the elevator. Especially when the line for the escalator is long but the stairs are empty. Seriously — you’d be surprised at how often you can get somewhere quicker by using your own two legs rather than the machinery to get there.
- Take a lap. If you are stuck in an office building all day, like many people are, hopefully you’re not actually chained to your desk (and if you are, you might want to speak to HR about that). Take a lap around the office in between phone calls, deliver a message to someone in person rather than through email, actually walk to the proverbial water cooler and have a conversation. If you are in the depths of a huge project and can’t do any of this, at the very least stand and do some light, unobtrusive stretching at least once every hour. I’m not talking about getting on the floor in butterfly stretch, but bring your arms up, twist your torso, and just move your body, even lightly, for a few moments. The extra blood flow may even give your brain a boost, giving you a bright idea for that meeting you have coming up.
- Be Ambitious. Sometimes things like this do take some extra effort, and require a little bit of motivation. For some of you, this may not be an option at all, but is along the same lines of parking at a farther parking space. For those who are train commuters in a city, try getting off the train one stop sooner than you have to. I started this habit last year, mostly because I actually like that extra walking time on the way to and from work. It gives me just a few minutes to gather my thoughts, center myself, and decompress from the “go-go-go” of my work day. Yes, you do have to give yourself extra time, and this isn’t really realistic when the weather is miserable, but for me, one or 2 extra train stops meant an extra mile or more of walking per day. That adds up!
- Make yourself a deal. Add in little bits of actual exercise, without turning them into a full on workout. For instance, there are certain times where I’ll tell myself that every time I walk past the pull up bar in my house, I have to do one pull up. One rep seems like nothing at the time, but when I pass through the same doorway 15 times in one day, that adds up to (you guessed it) 15 pull ups. Not bad for fitness “freebies”, right? You can make a similar deal with yourself whether or not you have equipment in your home. Commercial break during your favorite show? 15 squats and 15 glute bridges. Have a bench in your bedroom that’s the perfect height for incline push ups? Every time you enter that room, bang out 10 pushups. It’s easy, and it’s not something you have to do every day, but it’ll get you moving at times when otherwise you might just be sitting around.
Readers: How do you move more throughout the day? Is it possible for you to take a different train stop or find another way to sneak movement into your commute?