With the mounting pressures of a busy life, it’s only too easy to say “no” to exercise. Many of us get out of bed, enjoy some morning coffee, and head straight to the office. There, the paperwork piles up and the deadline for that important report looms. In the busy modern workday, it’s tough to make time for a lunch break, much less exercise. Exhausted at the end of a long work day, it’s understandable that so many of us choose to head home and promise to do better tomorrow.
Fortunately, taking charge of your health does not necessarily mean logging dozens of hours at the gym. It's not as difficult as you think to increase daily exercise. Making simple changes to your everyday routine translates into enormous payoffs in your health and energy levels.
A Sedentary Lifestyle Leads to Significant Health Problems
Unfortunately, most Americans’ workday routines are stacked against a healthy lifestyle. The ubiquity of office cubicles requiring daily computer work keeps many of us sitting all day long. In fact, a 2011 study by researchers at the University of Sydney found that the average American sits for an astonishing six hours per day.
Being sedentary has a profound impact on overall health. For example, a 2010 research study conducted at the University of South Carolina followed 7,700 men over a period of several years. The study found that long periods of sitting -- such as office work, long car commutes, or watching TV -- were associated with significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The scary part? Many of these participants exercised frequently. Thus, it seems that extended periods of inactivity are harmful to health, even for people who meet their recommended weekly activity goals.
Easy Ways to Boost Your Daily Exercise
The good news is that it’s easy to reduce your risk of health problems by making basic changes to your routine. Experts find that brief periods of physical activity throughout the day are highly beneficial to overall health. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of exercise throughout the day, even if it is in shorter, five- to ten-minute chunks. Begin by getting out of that office chair and trying some of the following activities:
• Take a quick five-minute break every hour. Stand up and walk away from your desk, head to the bathroom, or simply take a few laps of the hallway. Just five minutes of walking briskly can burn 25 extra calories and boost your heart rate. Giving your eyes a break from staring at a backlit computer screen is an added benefit.
• Tackle those stairs. Sure, the elevator is a quick and easy way to get to your office. However, foregoing daily elevator rides in favor of the stairs boosts cardiovascular health. Walking up two flights of stairs, twice per day, burns 20 calories.
• Don’t skip lunch. When paperwork piles up on your desk, it’s tempting to work straight through lunch. However, taking an active break is good for your physical health as well as your ability to concentrate later in the day. Even if you’re brown bagging your lunch, take a 15-minute break to stretch your legs. Going for a quick walk around the neighborhood will put you in a better mood and burn 70 calories.
• Switch up your commuting habits. Sitting in traffic for 30 minutes per day isn’t just aggravating – it’s additional sitting time that is bad for your health. To reduce the sedentary time in your routine, consider biking or walking to work. Or, if you have to drive, park a few blocks away. Just walking to and from your car will contribute to your daily 30 minutes of physical activity.
• Choose to stand. Spending an entire workday standing burns 290 additional calories compared to sitting down. Ask your employer about providing standing work desks, which elevate your computer to a manageable height. If one isn’t available, placing a plank across several stacked bricks is an easy way to modify your existing desk.
• Add body weight exercises to your routine. Find a place with a bit of privacy at work or at home to incorporate simple body weight exercises into your day. Alternate between lunges, push-ups, and deep knee squats. Doing 15 repetitions of each exercise for a total of five minutes burns 70 calories while building lean muscle mass.
For many Americans, hitting the gym for an hour each day just isn’t feasible. But that’s no excuse to maintain a sedentary lifestyle. Increase daily exercise with simple lifestyle changes to invest in your cardiovascular health and future well-being.