If you’re plopped on a bed, couch, or chair right now, you might have what is arguably the most common health problem in America today—sitting disease.
That might sound silly. But prolonged, morning-to-bedtime sitting—doctors call it sedentary living—has been shown by researchers to play a significant role in many of the most troublesome health issues of our time, from obesity and heart disease to diabetes to depression.
Think about the typical American day. Add up two hours for meals, one hour sitting in the car, bus, or train while commuting, eight hours behind a computer at work, up to five hours watching TV, and seven hours sleeping. That adds up to 23 out of 24 hours off your feet. Now, think about the most sedentary people you know. Can you honestly say they’re on their feet for three hours a day? Probably not. We would guess that there are millions of Americans who spend as little as an hour being up and moving briskly during a typical day.
Get Up and Move Until recently, experts considered the antidote to sitting disease to be formal exercise sessions. But new research is turning that thinking on its head. As it turns out, just being up and about throughout the day can be healthier for you than doing a rigorous workout, then sitting the rest of the time. It makes sense, when you think about how we used to live, walking and working all day. In fact, other than for athletes and soldiers, the idea of “working out” never existed until just a few decades ago!
This new thinking is important. It means that if you can live with greater vitality throughout your day, you can get all the health benefits, and more, than people working out in a gym but otherwise being inactive.
4 Everyday Habits
1. Walk faster
If there’s just one change you can make to get more fitness out of your days, it’s to pick up the pace each and every time you walk, whether it’s going down a hallway, getting to your car, shopping at the mall, or merely enjoying nature. Walking faster burns more calories, strengthens leg muscles, is great for your heart and lungs, and for your attitude and sense of vitality.
2. Take the stairs
Yep, you’ve heard that one a million times. But consider this: Walking just two flights of stairs daily burns enough calories to melt six pounds in a year. In fact, climbing stairs for two minutes, five days a week provides the same calorie burn as a 36-minute walk. Consider setting yourself a quota of say, 60 stairs per day (a typical staircase has 10 steps, so that’s six flights).
3. Add 15 minutes of walking to your lunch menu
At work or at home, we often allot 30 to 60 minutes to eat, but eating usually takes just 10 minutes. Spend your extra time walking, not sitting.
Move to the music at every opportunity, even if it’s just shimmying to music on your own while you wash the dinner dishes. Dancing is both joyful and healthy; you don’t need a dance floor, special occasion, or even a partner to do it.
6 Ideas for Around Your Home
1. Neaten up daily
Don’t wait until the weekend to clean your home; spend some time every day tidying up. Dusting, doing laundry, vacuuming, and washing windows can all use up about as many calories as taking a spin on a bicycle. An extra hour of cleanup per week burns enough calories to trim four or five pounds in a year.
2. Turn TV time into a workout
Don’t just sprawl out on the couch. Sit up straight and grab one hand with the other. Press your palms together hard for five seconds, then release. Repeat at least four times. Next, straighten one of your lower legs so it’s parallel to the floor, then lower it, switching back and forth between legs for as long as you can do it. Next, use commercial breaks during TV shows as a chance to rise off the sofa and stretch or move around.
3. Change your kitchen tools
Use a cleaver for your chopping needs, rather than a chef’s knife. A cleaver weighs more, giving your fingers, wrist, and arm muscles a real workout. Likewise, use cast-iron pots and pans, which are heavier than standard cooking gear.
4. Put drinking water in a gallon jug
Keep it in the refrigerator, and when you need a drink, pour it out. A gallon of water weighs more than eight pounds—enough to give your wrist and arms a workout with each pour.
5. Use your windows smartly
Rather than just turning on the air-conditioning come summer, learn how to create breezes through your home by opening and closing certain windows. You’ll save a fortune in electricity, and regularly raising, lowering, or cranking windows is real exercise.
6. Exercise your calf muscles while brushing your teeth
Place your feet flat on the floor, then rise up onto the balls of your feet, hold for two seconds, then sink down. Repeat 20, 30, 50 or more times. Do this also while washing dishes or standing in line.
4 Ideas for the Yard
1. Spend an hour outdoors each week
Preferably, much more. There’s a direct correlation between fitness levels and the amount of time you spend outdoors vs. indoors. Think about it: People who live outside are by nature more energized, upbeat, and fit. What to do outside? Pull weeds. Walk the dog. Practice your golf or tennis swing. Mulch the beds. Look for unusual birds. Bicycle. Visit a neighbor.
2. Weed by hand
Getting down on your hands and knees to yank out weeds can be part of your daily workout once or twice a week. Leaning onto your hands as you weed will build arm, shoulder, and upper back strength.
3. Rake by hand
Don’t use a leaf blower. By grabbing a rake instead, you’ll burn an additional 50 calories per hour. And maybe your neighbors will start speaking to you again.
4. Split your own wood
Instead of buying overpriced bundles of firewood at the supermarket or having a half cord delivered each winter, chop your own logs if it’s an option. Start in the late summer and put in 30 minutes each weekend (wielding an axe any longer can leave you with a sore back). You’ll burn a few hundred calories and strengthen your upper-body muscles.
4 Ideas for the Office
1. Talk standing
Whenever talking on the telephone, stand up and if possible, walk or pace. Never be seated while chatting on the phone.
2. Have walking meetings
Need to discuss an important matter with a colleague? Skip the conference room, slip on some comfortable walking shoes, and invite them for a stroll. Bring a small pad and pen to jot down notes, or use the voice recorder on a smart phone.
3. Get face-to-face at work
Likewise, instead of e-mailing or calling colleagues, walk to their part of the building for some face time when you need to ask a question or solve a work issue.
4. Take 30 seconds
Here’s a quick shoulder-toning exercise you can do at your desk without calling too much attention to yourself: Sit up straight with your back firmly against the back of your chair and your feet flat on the floor, about hip-width apart. Raise your arms over your head with your palms flat and your elbows facing to the sides. Inhale and press up as if you were going to push the ceiling with your hands. Hold for 30 seconds, breathing normally. Repeat. This exercise isolates and strengthens your shoulder muscles.
4 Out and About Ideas
1. Park on the perimeter
You’ve been hearing this one for years, too, but you might be surprised to learn how much exercise you get from leaving your car at the far edge of the parking lot. For example, if you park in an empty spot closest to a store entrance, you might only walk about 20 steps to the front door. Parking at the far edge of the lot could mean you take 200 strides or more. Let’s say you shop twice a week. Over the course of the year, simply parking on the perimeter could tack on close to 40,000 steps to your workout regimen.
2. Get in line
Here’s a back-strengthening exercise that you can do in the checkout line as you browse magazines. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Keeping your neck, shoulders, and arms relaxed, pull in and tighten the muscles of your abdomen. (Picture a belt being tightened around your midsection.) Hold for 60 seconds, breathing normally. If the line is long enough, repeat three times.
3. Go green
Have you been meaning to get some reusable canvas grocery bags? Now’s the time. They hold far more than flimsy plastic shopping bags, so you can load ’em up until they’re good and heavy. Lugging one in each hand to the car—you know, the one parked way, way out there on the far end of the lot—then carrying them into the house will burn 100 calories. You’ll give your arms an even better workout by doing curls as you walk. With your elbows at your sides and wrists facing out, raise the bags to your shoulders. Return to the starting position and repeat until you reach the car.
4. Go public
As in, take public transportation more often. Riding the bus or train to work or for a foray into the city requires you to walk more, and the extra movement can have an impressive impact. Commuters in Charlotte, North Carolina, who gave up driving and started taking a new light-rail system, lost more than six pounds in 18 months. Compared with drivers, rail passengers were 81 percent.