Understanding the importance of being physically active will help you make it a routine.
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With 206 bones and more than 600 muscles, your body was designed to move.
Think about it. Your mother experienced your first movements while carrying you during pregnancy. Your parents tried their best to keep up with you when you were a toddler as you bounced from one place to the next, seemingly never running out of energy.
As you entered adolescence, you probably still played and exercised for hours on end. In fact, you were likely in the best shape of your life.
But as you grew older, you may have found yourself busier. Adult responsibilities including holding a job, paying bills, and other obligations began to fill your days. And even though it may sound counterintuitive, this busyness probably led you to become more sedentary.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “…less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day.” Nearly one-third of the country’s population older than six years of age do not get any form of exercise.
More troubling is that the last few decades have shown that today’s children, who traditionally were always active, are part of this worsening trend. They “now spend more than seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen,” according to the HHS.
Even though society is becoming increasingly sedentary, this does not have to include you. With a few simple changes—you can stay fit!
The less you exercise, the more at risk you are of suffering adverse effects. Therefore, concreting in your mind why keeping fit is important will help you squeeze in exercise daily.
Research by the Mayo Clinic revealed that being sedentary for long periods is linked to obesity and metabolic syndrome, which includes excess body fat, abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure. The findings demonstrated that people who spent more than four hours a day in front of a screen had a 50 percent increased risk of dying by any cause—and a 125 percent increased risk of heart problems!
One of the study’s researchers, Dr. James A. Levine, even coined the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” since there is substantial evidence that sitting results in similar serious conditions as smoking cigarettes.
Findings published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute support the fact that being sedentary can also result in lung, colon and endometrial cancers. More alarming is that with every additional two hours of sitting, the risk of developing these three types of cancers increased 6 percent, 8 percent, and 10 percent, respectively.
The HHS reported that obesity affects a third of American adults, and almost 17 percent of children. In addition to the effects of metabolic syndrome, it also results in joint problems—and even early death.
Those suffering from such ailments impact overall healthcare costs. The annual medical costs of obesity alone in the United States are $147 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and obesity-related problems cost another $190 billion each year, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
These increasing costs are being pushed to private and government insurers, and affect what their clients and taxpayers—you—pay.
The human body is an engine. As with any system, it requires energy and must be properly maintained to function at its peak.
Energy for the body is generated by a combination of oxygen and certain nutrients. Oxygen-rich air is inhaled and carried by the blood to cells. Through a chemical reaction, oxygen converts fat and the nutrients from food (such as protein and carbohydrates) into usable energy.
Regular exercise improves this energy-producing process. Increased cardiovascular activity causes more blood to flow to your skeletal-muscle tissue, skin, intestinal organs, kidneys and brain.
The body’s requirement for energy causes it to first burn what is available in the digestive system and blood stream, and then eventually what is stored as body fat. Consistent physical activity strengthens your muscles, conditions your heart and lungs, increases your energy, improves your brain function and concentration, and helps ensure harmful metabolic waste is removed.
But the benefits do not end there.
In addition to helping control your body weight and burn calories, you are more likely to feel less stressed and sleep better.
On a genetic level, exercise unlocks certain genes that are in muscles, which are helpful in resisting cancer.
An active lifestyle further prevents chronic diseases such as hypertension, stroke and diabetes, and reduces the risk of heart attack.
On top of all these benefits, physical activity helps to curb cravings for junk food and cigarettes, and has been proven to prevent migraine headaches. Moderate exercise coupled with a healthy diet and proper water consumption can also help treat constipation as increased circulation helps food and nutrients more easily move through the body.
With all the facts in place about how exercise leads to a healthier, longer life, what can you do to ensure you reap its benefits—and stay committed?
Start small: Staying active and healthy does not require a lot of time or money—you can benefit from exercise intervals as short as 10 minutes. As a rule of thumb, the American Heart Association recommends “at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes.”
But you do not have to begin this way. Instead, start small and make 30 minutes a long-term goal you work toward, especially if you have not been physically active for some time.
Before implementing an exercise routine, determine your level of activity on a scale of one to 10. One would be not active at all (needs much improvement), five would be moderately active (needs some improvement), and 10 would be highly active. Be honest in your assessment.
For a score of five and below, work toward a moderately intense exercise routine, one that requires a medium amount of effort and increases your heart rate. If your body is not used to exercising regularly, focus first on maintaining a certain level of activity for a set time period—a full 10 minutes, for example.
According to the World Health Organization, moderately intense exercises include brisk walking, dancing, gardening, housework and playing with your children. Of these, walking is the most practical and easy-to-begin activity.
As you improve your score higher than five, add more vigorous exercises that require greater effort and a more rapid increase in your heartrate. These include running, walking uphill, fast cycling, swimming, participating in competitive sports, heavy shoveling, and carrying loads of more than 40 pounds.
If you have not been active for a long period, it is recommended that you first consult a physician and gradually increase the intensity of your exercise.
Use what you have: Exercising at work or in your home can be just as beneficial as having a gym membership or expensive equipment. This is an important part of fitting exercise into a busy schedule.
For example, there are numerous ways to stay physically active throughout the workday.
If possible, walk or ride a bicycle to your job at least twice a week. Also, use your work environment to your benefit. Park on the far end of the parking lot and walk to the entrance. Instead of sitting, walk around your office while talking on the phone. Take the stairs to a meeting rather than the elevator.
During lunch, walk to a city park or to a location down the street. This will not only give you a workout, but it can also help refresh your mind and keep you sharp while performing afternoon duties.
After work, exit the bus a few blocks from home and walk the remaining distance or walk a few laps around the parking lot before taking off for the day.
Many workplaces offer recreational activities for employees or even an office gym. Participating in these activities will not only help you get in shape, but also become better acquainted with colleagues.
If you really want to fit in a routine and it is appropriate for your work environment, your office can be an effective place to do additional exercise during a lunch break. Start with stretches, arm raises, leg raises, or standing for intervals of time.
Later you can upgrade to walking, jogging or running in place, doing push-ups, squats, calf-raises while standing behind your chair, and lunges.
While it may seem unusual to do these kinds of exercises at work, this is how many are fitting physical activity into increasingly busy schedules. (Search online on various exercise websites for other ways to stay active while at work.) Since such exercises stimulate the brain, those who do them during the workday receive the added benefit of staying more alert. They all involve using your bodyweight as resistance, meaning you do not need any equipment, which multiplies the possibilities of working out effectively.
Sets of 10 to 15 repetitions at a time can easily be squeezed in between tasks or during breaks. Smaller weights to exercise the arms and upper body can also be stored in a desk drawer.
Big or small, your home adds to these possibilities. You may want to designate an area in your home where you feel comfortable exercising.
But remember to start small. A walk around the neighborhood or to the grocery store can be a great way to get moving. These walks can serve as family outings or ways to spend time with your spouse.
Other family activities, such as a hike in the woods or tossing a ball in the backyard, can help lead to better physical health and build stronger bonds between you and your children. The main thing to keep in mind, though, is whether at work or at home, get started now.
While you may be busy—and probably feel as though you do not have time to fit exercise into an already demanding schedule—incorporating just a few small changes into your daily routine will do wonders. And because staying fit can extend your lifespan, it will ensure that you have even more time to do other things in the long run.