The key to fixing your sedentary lifestyle is not how much you exercise, but how often
The notion that you need exercise to balance out your lazy routine has become something of a daily dogma. However, the question is can you out-exercise your sedentary lifestyle? If you’re glued to a chair for 40 hours a week, can five hours at the gym make up for the muscle loss and reverse your weight gain? The answer is not as simple as you may think.
While on one hand, exercising will absolutely offset the harmful effects of your sedentary routine, this alone will not bring you to optimal health. Balance is key. Instead of trying to sweat for two hours a day at the gym on weekends, you should focus on performing just 20 to 30 minutes of exercise every single day. Keep reading to find out how.
Why should you care to fix your sedentary lifestyle?
If a sedentary lifestyle was so bad, why is it the norm? Why aren’t we encouraged to be active and instead nine out of 10 people spend over 40 hours a week in a chair? The answer is simple. While a sedentary lifestyle is terribly unhealthy, it has become the norm due to convenience and office logistics. Some companies offer a free or discounted gym membership to employees, but the fact is that it’s ultimately up to you to regain control of your health.
A sedentary lifestyle leads to a host of health problems. Those who spend eight or more hours a day sitting down risk developing diabetes, becoming obese, suffering from chronic illnesses, and being tortured by persistent back pain, just to name a few. On the bright side, there are specific actions you can take today to improve your lifestyle through exercise and a healthy diet.
Being productive at work is not the same as being physically active
The very first issue to address here is that you may lead a sedentary lifestyle without even knowing it. The definition of a sedentary lifestyle is little to no physical activity. In contrast, those considered “moderately” active walk for at least 1.5 to three miles a day. A person considered “very active” is someone who walks more than three miles a day. With these simple statistics in mind, you can determine which group you belong to.
A common deception that tricks people into thinking that they’re active is how much work they accomplish. For example, if you have a demanding desk job and are constantly looking at two monitors, answering the phone, going into meetings, and preparing contracts, well, your lifestyle is still sedentary. It’s not about how much work you complete or how much your hands move. An active lifestyle is all about full-body movement. Even if you achieve a ton each day at the office, you may still be endangering your cardiovascular health by not getting enough exercise.
How does exercise counteract the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle?
According to research, regular exercise helps you control your weight and reduces the risk of heart disease. It helps prevent diabetes type two by managing blood sugar, strengthens the muscles and bones, and even wards off various types of cancer.
Not only that, but frequent exercise helps to boost your mood and improve your mental health, too. The American Psychological Association found that just five minutes of moderate exercise was enough to see a notable mood improvement. Exercise has been found to help with healing long-term depression largely due to the serotonin and dopamine produced post-workout.
Exercise is the ultimate cure for anxiety. Working out regularly was found to decrease the episodes of panic attacks in adults as well as reducing the “fight or flight” response, which is known to trigger stress. So if you weren’t convinced before, there you have it. Regular exercise will not only make you stronger and healthier, but happier, too.
How much exercise do you need to do weekly?
Many people like to think that there’s a shortcut to working out. If health experts recommend exercising for an hour a day, five times a week, why not do all five hours at once over the weekend? If it’s the same amount of physical activity, why don’t you optimize your time smartly? The problem is that it doesn’t work like that.
When it comes down to exercise, it’s all about how often you do it, not how much. A person who works out for 30 minutes a day three times a week will be fitter than a person who works out for 1.5 hours one day a week. After a while, exercise becomes a habit. As such, it begins to change your body. Once you get in shape, all of your subsequent workouts will be focused on maintaining your fitness. If you work out just once a week, however, you’ll be constantly trying to get back in shape. In fact, you don’t even need to work out as much as you may think.
In a 2012 study, scientists concluded that three 10-minute walks a day had the same benefits of one 30-minute walk. The activity was shown to improve blood pressure for up to 24 hours after the participants had stopped walking. On top of that, the three 10-minute sessions not only matched the positive blood pressure effect but also blunted the subsequent spikes of pressure that occurred after that one 30-minute walk. So the science is conclusive – short but frequent exercise sessions are extremely effective. At the end of the day, who doesn’t have ten minutes to take care of their health?
If you are short on time, as most working people are, you can fit in ten minutes of intense exercise in the morning before work, or later in the evening just before dinner.
What qualifies as intense exercise? In short, anything that gets your heart beating faster. You can opt for a repetition of jump-squats, push-ups, burpees, and jumping jacks. Alternatively, you can skip rope, run, or dance. The key is to find a form of movement that you enjoy so that you stick with it.
Is standing better than sitting?
Yes, standing is better for you than sitting. Research indicates that blood sugar levels return to normal faster after a meal when you stand as opposed to sitting. Sitting leads to blood pooling, joint stiffness, and bad posture. All three of these negative effects are greatly minimized if you stand instead.
From a behavioral perspective, you are more likely to change your position more often if you stand. While standing, your body uses various muscles to coordinate balance, which engages your core better. If you stand, you aren’t risking back pain, which is usually a side effect of too much sitting.
When you sit for long periods, your hamstrings and hip flexors shorten. These pull on the pelvis, which attaches to the spine and connects to an array of other muscles and tissues. Consequently, your body becomes imbalanced and you experience lower back pain. So if you have the option to stand at work, definitely take advantage of that.
Easy tips for fitting in regular exercise
As we have seen so far, even short but regular exercise sessions can do wonders for your physical and mental health. The trick is to fit frequent workouts in throughout the week. Here are some tips on how to get started.
Try Tabata workouts
Tabata workouts are short, very intense bursts of movement. Each session is no longer than four minutes, but its effects can be felt for up to 48 hours after you’ve finished. Here’s how it works: you perform eight rounds total. Each round consists of 20 seconds of maximum effort and ten seconds of rest.
The exercises may include burpees, high knees, jump lunges, and more. You can perform Tabata routines anywhere with little space. As little equipment as a yoga mat is enough. If you’re considering integrating frequent exercise into your day, Tabata is a great way to start.
Walk for ten minutes before, during, and after work
As we’ve seen, you can break up a 30-minute walk to achieve the same effects with sessions lasting only ten minutes. If you take public transport to work, get off one stop earlier and walk the rest of the distance. On your lunch break, go up and down the stairs or go on another 10-minute walk. After work, get off of the subway one stop earlier and walk home.
Find an exercise buddy or join a sports club
Hitting the gym every day after work can be a lot more enjoyable if you have a good company. Ask your partner or kids to go with you. This way, you can bond while getting your exercise in.
You can also join a workout group such as CrossFit or Zumba or a basketball or soccer club. If you turn your necessary exercise prescription into a friendly or a competitive game, you’ll end up having a ton of fun while simultaneously protecting your health.