Want to Stay Healthy? Don’t (Just) Exercise

When my boys were little, I used to bug them about exercising, especially on the weekends. I was like a broken record. They would practically be chained to their chairs, playing with their computers. No matter that hours would pass and they hadn’t eaten. They were captive. I’m happy to say that now that they’re grown and on their own, I don’t have to nag them anymore. They are both proud card-carrying gym members.

So instead of bugging them, when I started writing this blog, I suspect I began to bug all my readers about exercising. If you haven’t noticed, I write about it a lot.

OK, I’ll make you a deal. This time will be different. I won’t tell you to exercise. I won’t tell you that it improves your overall health or that it can lower your blood pressure, improve your metabolism, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

I’ll tell you something much simpler that has these same exact health benefits. (But you’re not exactly off the hook. I’m not telling you to give up exercise completely.)

Experts are now saying that even if you exercise regularly, it won’t make up for those hours you spend sitting. I wrote about this previously but that was almost a full year ago. I think it bears repeating. I know that after I heard the report on NPR this morning, I clipped on my pedometer (something I used to do but have gotten away from)  and made sure I put it to work to log at least 10,000 steps today.

One Australian study found that taking mini-breaks throughout the day resulted in lowering blood sugar levels as well as triglycerides and cholesterol. And waist sizes decreased, too. The NPR broadcast quotes epidemiologist Steven Blair, a professor of public health at the University of South Carolina, as saying, “Let’s say you do 30 minutes of walking five days a week (as recommended by federal health officials), and let’s say you sleep for eight hours. Well, that still leaves 15.5 hours in the day.”

So you see, most of us are sitting much more than we probably realize. And when we sit, our muscles don’t contract much; when major muscles aren’t moving, neither is your metabolism (at least, not very much). It slows down dramatically. Aside from that, sitting leads to other health problems, among them an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Now that you know this, what do you do? Some suggestions:

Schedule a 10-minute mini-break (or several) into your day. Get up from your desk and walk around, stretch, bend, jump—just move.

When looking for a place to park, pull your car into the farthest corner of the parking lot.

Skip the elevator; take the stairs instead.

If you work in an office with others, instead of calling a coworker on the phone or e-mailing her, get up from your desk for some in-person communication.

Swap your desk chair for a stability ball or use a taller desk where you can work standing up.

During a meeting or while watching television, stand up regularly and walk in place, pace or just plain fidget.

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