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The importance of incidental exercise and how to make it happen

You’ve no doubt heard by now that “sitting is the new smoking” when it comes to the negative effects sitting has on your long term health. Lack of activity is now recognised as a risk factor for a variety of chronic health problems including heart and cardiovascular disease and being above your healthy weight (which in itself creates further health problems).

Even if you go to the gym or play sport or go for a run or a bike ride a couple of times a week, what about all the in-between time? Many of us spend hours at a time sitting in a car or at a desk or in front of the TV. This is not good! There is a growing body of research suggesting that sitting for long periods of time can be detrimental to your health even if you are a gym junkie for a few hours a week.

Sitting (especially slouching…and let’s face it few of us have perfect sitting posture) puts all sorts of strain on our neck, back, hips and more. It restricts blood flow to our muscles and also our digestive organs and kidneys. This restriction of circulation reduces the delivery of essential nutrients to our cells. There have been many studies looking at the health impacts of sitting, including the effect it has on blood sugar and therefore the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

What is required is regular movement…at least every hour for a few minutes. Regular movement improves circulation, digestion, your immune system, helps lubricate your joints and engages your muscles. It also helps your mood and reduces your stress hormones.

The generally recognised guideline for exercise is a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week (including some weight bearing exercise) along with regular interruption to your sedentary activities.

Regular activity is considered to be one of the cornerstones of preventative medicine and healthy aging so I’d like you to consider whether your digestive problems, aching back, stiff neck, headaches, sore hips, diabetes, poor sleep etc etc could be a result of your sedentary lifestyle?

I see many clients in my naturopathic clinic for all sorts of health issues and my objective as a naturopath is to get to the underlying cause of your problem including any contributing lifestyle factors. So, when I am getting to know you one of the areas we will cover is exercise; your activity levels, time available for exercise, activities you enjoy (or don’t). This will help us work out how to incorporate activity into your treatment plan.

In the meantime, start paying attention to your incidental activity (or lack thereof).

Some tips to increase your incidental exercise

  • set yourself a goal (and a reminder) to move at least once an hour (preferably every 30 minutes)
  • park the car just that bit further away
  • get off the train, tram or bus one stop early and walk the rest of the way
  • take every opportunity to stand up instead of sitting…be the person who offers their seat on the train to someone who might need it more than you
  • consider investing in a “standing desk” ( I don’t have one of these yet but I do have a high bench that I can stand at to do some of my work and it really helps)
  • get up and talk to people instead of using email in the office
  • use a Swiss ball for the office or home
  • when you are on the phone…stand up
  • move the printer further away from your desk
  • encourage “walking meetings” especially if they only involve two or three of you
  • go for a walk at lunch time, if not more often (even if it’s just around the block)
  • offer to do the morning coffee run
  • take the stairs or walk the escalator
  • make a habit of standing up and doing a few stretches before you start the next task
  • toss the remote…if you want to change channels, get up out of your seat
  • put those annoying ad breaks to good use, get up and do some stretches or walk to one end of the house and back or do a quick set of lunges up the hallway
  • instead of taking the car to an automatic car wash, go back to the old fashioned way of doing it yourself

Aim for “a little, often, rather than a lot occasionally”. There are lots of ways to get moving and it doesn’t have to be strenuous. How many of these could you try?

What about apps and fitness devices?

There are a plethora of apps and gadgets to help you track your steps or activity. Some of them are quite basic and others have lots of bells and whistles. Some are even free (i.e. they come with your smartphone).

There’s been a lot of research into the accuracy of various products so if you are thinking of investing in one it is worth checking how it rates. However, the general conclusion of most studies is that these devices are reasonably accurate. And it’s also good to know that the free apps available on smartphones are also quite reliable.

In fact, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association published in 2015, the smartphone apps showed reliability to within 7%. The reliability of the wearable devices ranged from 22.7% under to 1.5% over. So, the good news is you don’t need an expensive device….just your smartphone. And unless there is a particular reason why you need a high degree of accuracy, these devices will be just fine (although I wouldn’t rely on them for calorie expenditure as they don’t take into account degree of difficulty in your steps).

The most important thing is to monitor your daily activity and trends over time. So, get your smartphone working for you and see whether it makes a difference to your daily incidental exercise.

Sitting may not be the only cause of your health problems but it could be a contributing factor. Do you have a favourite idea to get that incidental exercise happening?   Please share your favourites in the comments below. It might be just the inspiration someone needs.

Want help with your health? Call me on 03 9620 9503 and let's have a chat about your best next step.
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