Americans are becoming more and more sedentary. Our lives are busy, and technology has taken the place of human labor or distracted us from doing the things we all know are important, like exercising. In fact, we are inactive to the point that almost 36% of Americans are considered obese, and according to the CDC, 80% are not getting the recommended amount of exercise weekly.
According to the American Osteopathic Association, leading a sedentary lifestyle is as dangerous, if not more so, than smoking. Sitting all day and not being active can lead to increased anxiety, depression, higher blood pressure, decreased mobility of the joints and spine, obesity and loss of muscle mass.
We are animals designed to be in motion, our bodies are adaptable and we change to fit the conditions we find ourselves in most often. If we sit in front of a screen for more than seven hours per day, which is now the average screen time for 8-18 year old children according to a study by Kaiser Family Foundation, we will adapt into sitting and staring machines. However, if we are constantly moving, our bodies will be healthy and function as we have evolved to.
Many of us don’t have the time to devote to going to the gym 90 minutes per day, five days per week, but we can make simple changes to our day-to-day lives to incorporate constant movement.
One: Plant a garden
Planting a garden is a great way to move your body through all sorts of motions, gives you exposure to vitamin D from the sun, and provides healthy, organic food for most of the year. On top of that Mycobacterium vaccae, a common soil bacterium, has been shown to improve our mood in the same way as antidepressants by increasing our bodies’ production of serotonin. In the book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, best-selling author Dan Buettner studied populations of people around the world who regularly live over the age of 100. He found that in nearly every centenarian population the majority of people maintained a garden. With the physical and mental health benefits there is no reason why everyone shouldn’t be out in the garden. If you don’t have a yard, a container garden only needs a few square feet of sun. You can also join a local community garden or start one at your place of worship or your child’s school.
Two: Stand-up desk
If you work in an office, a stand-up desk is a great way to be mobile all day long. Standing burns 15-25% more calories than sitting and up to 35% more for people who are obese. That means if you stand while at work eight hours per day, five days a week, for 48 weeks a year, you would burn the equivalent amount of additional calories as running 28 marathons. Standing desks allow for better mobility in your hips, thoracic spine, and shoulders. They have also been shown to help prevent pelvic floor dysfunction. School districts across the country are switching to standing desks as a way of combating childhood obesity, attention disorders and discipline issues. These don’t have to be fancy; my first stand-up desk was a milk crate atop my desk with a laptop sitting on it. The desk just needs to be slightly higher than your elbow and allow you to look straight ahead at your computer screen.
Your community needs your help, and it can be great for your health as well. River cleanups, building and maintaining local trails and walking dogs at the local animal shelters can give you a sense of purpose, are great ways to meet new people and add activity into your day or lunch hour. Talk to your employer because more progressive organizations may even pay for a few hours of volunteering each month.
Four: Walk or ride your bike to the grocery store or work
Did you know that the average trip in a car is less than six miles? If you only need a few things from the store, throw on a backpack and walk or ride your bike. There are few things that wake me up and get me going in the morning more than riding my bike to work. It’s also a great way to unplug and relax after a hard day. It’s healthier, more fun and less stressful.
Five: Register for a race
One of the best ways to motivate you to be more active is to set a high but attainable goal like finishing a 5k, half marathon or sprint triathlon. It’s not all about winning; it’s about being active and part of a group. I’ve found that fellow racers and race spectators are incredibly supportive of everyone who is competing, and in most cases, the proceeds for many races are donated back to a community group or a cause. Raceroanoke.com has several races that Roanoke Parks and Recreation coordinates and there are many other organizations in the area that collectively put on a race almost every week throughout the year.
Six: Find Something Active that you Love
The key to living an active life is finding things that you love doing and doing them every day. Hate going to the gym but love walking the dogs? Great, do that. Hate dodging traffic when you run? Try trail running. Don’t like riding a bike, but like eating healthy food? Double the size of your garden. Once you find active things you love, it’s easy to do them everyday.
Seven: Suggest a walking meeting at work
You probably aren’t the only one at work bored nearly to tears at meetings. Suggest that your next meeting be a walking meeting. Researchers at Stanford University found that creativity was boosted by an average of 60% when walking. Combine that with the stress reducing benefits of being in nature and meetings may become something everyone looks forward to.
Eight: Swap your TV for a podcast
Find a podcast to listen to, and instead of watching TV, go for a walk around the neighborhood or in one of the nearly 70 parks in town while you listen. Make a vow to yourself that you will only listen while you walk. You will still be entertained but have the added benefit of being active. Even better, devote one day per week to unplug from all technology. Turn off the TV, smartphone, laptop and tablet from the time you wake up until you go to bed. It’s incredible what we find to do when there isn’t that easy source of distraction.
Nine: Find a hobby
Woodworking, painting, fly tying and playing a musical instrument all develop hand eye coordination and are great ways to spend evenings in the winter or when it is raining. Bird watching, nature or landscape photography will get you active with the added mental health benefits of being in nature.
Ten: Never take the elevator
Challenge yourself. If it’s less than four floors, the stairs will be faster anyway.
Living an active lifestyle doesn’t mean going to the gym every day. It means making conscious decisions to move all day long, rather than taking the easy route. None of these suggestions are difficult or time consuming, but collectively, they can have a huge positive impact on the quality of your life. Now, get moving!