Last week I crossed the finish line on a number of projects that had been consuming most of my time and energy. During the month prior, I had pretty much abandoned my structured workouts, but I was getting much more daily activity than usual, thanks to the brick scrubbing, floor laying, door building, etc. It got me thinking about the difference between routine daily activity and formal exercise, so I did a little research on the topic to see which is better for us. I’m not going to ruin the surprise and tell you which it is, but here in Part One, I’ll argue the case for simply filling your days with more activity of any kind.
Over the past five years, health-wise media outlets have been regularly publishing articles warning against the dangers of our modern sedentary lifestyle. Runner’s World and The Huffington Post have written on the topic under the catchy title, “Sitting is the New Smoking,” while the New York Times asked, “Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?”
While these titles may sound like the typical attention-grabbing, over-the-top fluff that has become the industry standard, the science behind them strongly supports their alarmist tone. (When you’re finished here, click through to the links above to read the scary statistics.)
Scientists are learning more about the ill effects of inactivity every day, but here’s what researchers already know: Stretches of inactivity lasting longer than 30 minutes set about a metabolic chain of events that negatively impacts insulin uptake; raises bad cholesterol while lowering good cholesterol; and increases the likelihood that you will store more fat. What’s more, these effects happen to everyone who is idle for long periods, even those who exercise regularly.
So, long stretches of sitting at your desk at work, sitting in the car or on a bus on your way to work, and plopping down in front of the TV to unwind at the end of the day can all lead to ill health effects whether you exercise regularly or not. In fact, sitting has the same detrimental effects on pack-a-day smokers as it does on distance runners. So what can you do? The solution is surprisingly easy – just get up and move around for a minute or two every 20 or 30 minutes.
Sitting around causes blood to pool in the lower extremities. By getting up and utilizing your muscles – especially the leg muscles – your circulatory system kicks back into gear, carrying toxins and triglycerides out of the blood stream. What counts as “activity” you ask? Honestly, anything at all that gets the blood flowing: Standing up for a minute or two, pacing around your office for thirty seconds, doing handful of squats or a couple of Warrior poses.
Of course, the more activity you can incorporate throughout the day, the better off you’ll be, so try to take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further away from your destination, and walk anywhere you possibly can rather than driving.
Today I invite you to stand up, walk around and fidget a little more. Tomorrow, come back here to read Part Two, where I’ll argue the case for formal exercise.