Nutrition Column – Activate Yourself this New Year

The weight issue in America is very much associated with issues of inactivity. As a nation, we are working more hours than our parents and grandparents but spending fewer work hours engaged in physical labor or activities. When we do get home, we collapse in front of the television rather than go for a walk with the kids or the dog. According to a recent report from the Surgeon General’s office, 40 percent of adults in the United States do not participate in any leisure-time physical activity and less than a third engage in 30 minutes of physical activity on most days.

For those trying to lose weight, regular physical activity is the edge that helps assure that the calories you’re eliminating each day from your diet actually come off as fat. It’s also the edge that helps keep that weight off once it’s lost. If this isn’t enough reason to exercise, consider this: regular physical activity helps prevent heart disease, helps control cholesterol levels and diabetes, slows bone loss associated with advancing age, lowers the risk of certain cancers, and helps reduce anxiety and depression. It also helps improve your appearance by firming up your muscles and is a great stress reliever.

There was a time when experts felt that to be of value, exercise needed to be vigorously aerobic for at least 20 minutes at a time on three or more days per week. While this is still a good goal to work toward, recent studies have shown that cardiorespiratory fitness gains are similar when physical activity occurs in several short sessions (e.g. 10 minutes each) as when the same total amount and intensity of activity occurs in one longer session (e.g. 30 minutes). The current recommendation for healthy adults is to include a total of at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on all, or most, days of the week.

This brings us to time. For many of us, regular physical activity is about finding the time to do it. But just like a good bargain, you can find time to exercise if you know where to look. Here are 10 ideas and tips to help you find the time to be active during your normal work day.

  • Buy comfortable walking shoes. Keep a pair in your car and office. That way, when the opportunity arises for exercise, you’re ready.
  • Make physical activity part of your daily commute to work. Walk to the bus stop or park on the outside edge of the parking lot. Your car will have fewer dings and you’ll get the benefit of the walk.
  • Take the stairs rather than the elevator – even two flights of stairs a day can work wonders.
  • Walk down the hall instead of using the phone or e-mail to talk to your co-workers.
  • Set your computer or clock to remind you take a morning or afternoon walk break. Ask a co-worker or friend to go with you.
  • Choose a restaurant within walking distance for lunch, or pack a sack lunch and walk with a friend to a peaceful place to enjoy the meal. Alternately, use your lunch break to go for a quick jog or for a workout at a nearby gym.
  • Sneak in a brief walk after work before you get home – you’ll be physically active before you must tend to dinner and other evening obligations.
  • After work, participate in a yoga group, play with the kids or take the dog for a walk.
  • Consider cleaning house a form of physical activity, not just a chore than must be done.
  • Incorporate physical activity into your weekend and off-work activities. Walk up and down the sidelines at your child’s baseball or soccer practices and games. Join a weekend line dancing or ballroom dancing group. Go to the park with your family or friends. Wash the car by hand or spruce up your lawn or garden.

Start slowly and build. Too many exercise programs are put on the back burner because of injuries from doing too much, too early. Start with just one 10-minute change in your daily routine, then add another 10-minute change when you’re ready. Most of all, choose a variety of activities that you find fun. That way, you’ll be more likely to make them part of your usual routine.