We work sitting on our backsides more often than not these days, and we return from the office to do the same while we eat, relax, and sleep to prepare for the next day’s sitting at work. The lack of physical activity is as damaging to human health as smoking and obesity. Are you active enough?
It used to be that we could rely on our work to keep us active – whether that was tending the fields, pushing sheep around a pasture or even beating our rugs rigorously in the time before the electric vacuum cleaner. So many tasks have become automated or at least semi-mechanized. For most of us, the most we can hope for is a job where we encourage electronic devices to move for us and for the majority, a sedentary job is the most likely. Sitting at a desk typing all day might activate the grey matter but it does little for the heart rate. Since 1950, sedentary jobs have increased 83%. We also spend more time doing them – in the US, the average work week is 47 hours long which is 164 hours more per year than it was twenty years ago.
After sitting down all day, you’d think the last thing we’d want to do is sit down all evening too but in fact that’s mostly what we do. Watching TV, playing games consoles, and surfing the internet are our prime leisure activities and they’re not helping to strengthen our muscles or our cardiovascular system. Quite the contrary. Stand up to read the rest of this article. It’s a very small change but it matters.
Laziness breeds laziness. We get so accustomed to doing nothing that even thinking about exercise can wipe us out. Committing to making the change to a more active lifestyle is so important because the inverse is also true – as we get used to exercising, we find that it actually gives us more energy, allowing us to achieve so much more with our day and ultimately, it can even prolong our lives.
What will happen if I don’t keep active?
There are both short-term and long-term risks associated with inactivity. One of the most clear short-term effects of protracted inactivity is fatigue. Doing nothing is the easiest way to tire yourself out. This makes sense when you consider that we seek to rest before we sleep. Our body simply starts to shut down the processes that keep us awake and alert. All rest and no play also makes Jack a dull boy.
The personal risks of a sedentary life are profound. A failure to engage in regular physical activity can increase the chances of many debilitating and even life threatening conditions:
- Hypertension – high blood pressure puts you at risk of stroke and kidney disease. Strengthening the heart via exercise means it can pump blood around the body more efficiently, putting less pressure on the arteries.
- Heart disease – high cholesterol can lead to heart disease. Exercise lowers LDL cholesterol levels (the risky kind) while raising HDL cholesterol (the helpful kind).
- Osteoporosis – without physical activity, your bones and muscles become weak and your chance of osteoporosis increases as you age.
- Colon and breast cancer – wastes moves through the colon of sedentary people at a far slower rate so carcinogens remain in the body for longer. Hormone levels can also be lowered with regular exercise, which might decrease the chance of breast cancer.
- Obesity – illnesses related with obesity include: heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and sleep apnea.
- Diabetes – type 2 diabetes is more likely to develop in those who are physically inactive and/or overweight.
- Depression/anxiety – exercise and physical activity stimulates certain areas of the brain and produces chemicals that regulate mood, reduce stress and give you energy. Inactive people can be prone to depression or anxiety without the stimuli of exercise.
So that seems important but what counts as active anyway?
Everyone thinks of activity differently. The important thing is to start somewhere. Experts vary in their advice on the precise amount of activity required to stay healthy – and indeed the truth will vary from person-to-person based on body type and metabolism. Any action is better than no action at all of course but most experts recommend about two and half hours of moderate exercise (or an hour of rigorous exercise) every week plus muscle-strengthening activities twice a week.
Moderate activity includes things like:
- walking briskly
- cycling (fast or on hills)
- skipping rope
- martial arts
Muscle strengthening activities can be things like:
- lifting weights
- using resistance bands
- push-ups/pull ups (activities which use your own weight as resistance)
When firs trying to brng activity back into your life, don’t think too much about numbers and muscle groups. Instead focus on maximising opportunities for activity and enjoying the energy, happiness hormones and personal satisfaction that you feel from accomplishing small daily goals.
Sign Me Up, Just After This Episode’s Finished
The most difficult thing about changing your lifestyle is getting started but the good news is that there are countless ways of bringing activity into your daily routine so that you end up with healthy habits. The ideal situation is to be exercising without even thinking about it. Even standing rather than sitting is good for you. Taking the stairs over the elevator is an easy change to make too. It will amuse you when you get to your floor at the same time – or sometimes even earlier – than those who waited for the elevator. Parking the car a mile away from the office means you’ll be walking two miles a day, plus giving yourself time to wake up and wind down.
No-one is suggesting that you have to quit watching TV or playing video games altogether but it is important to set aside some time for your body. Granted that, even if you’re addicted to video games, you may not need help like the many addicts need, at places like legacyhealing.com. But nonetheless, you need to break that habit. Doing half an hour of yoga after work, for example, might be a far more effective way to relax than listening to people argue on a talk show, or maybe you’d feel more satisfied learning for yourself the martial art that your combat game avatar is so proficient in. Or if you like to listen to music, don’t be content with tapping your foot in time, get up and dance and really give it your all.
The trick to making any lifestyle change is to start small and stick to it. Habits can take a long time to form so if you skip a day of your new active regimen, it’s important not to give up but simply to carry on with the activity again tomorrow.
The Take Away
The take home news is that while curling up with home delivered food and catching up on Breaking Bad might seem like the perfect way to spend an evening after work, the truth is that you – and your body – both need and deserve better. There are easy ways of incrementally increasing the amount of activity in your daily life which can steer you out of the ‘at risk’ group for a multitude of life-shortening diseases. Physical activity releases chemicals and hormones that keep you healthy and happy in a way that’s much more sustainable than the addictive pleasures of video games.