Nutrition Column – Work Activity into Your Daily Schedule this New Year

We are a nation at work – and we are a nation in need of time, always looking for labor-saving devices and time-saving systems to make our work more efficient. We e-mail reports rather than hand-carry them to bosses. We talk with colleagues by phone rather than walking down to their offices. We hire cleaning services rather than do it ourselves.

The result is fewer work hours spent engaging in physical activity. When we do get home, we collapse in front of the television rather than go for a walk with the kids or 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 people battling the bulge, regular physical activity is the edge that helps assure that calories eliminated actually come off as fat. It’s also the edge that helps keep weight off once it’s lost. And there’s more: 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. Exercise also helps improve one’s appearance by firming up muscles and is a great stress reliever.

The amount of daily exercise recommended by experts has increased in recent years, given the decline in regular activity occurring in the work place. First it was at least 20 minutes three times a week, then 30 minutes on most days. Now, the 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines committee is considering 30 minutes a day as baseline. They are recommending that children, adolescents and most adults engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days, and up to 90 minutes a day to avoid regaining weight. This physical activity doesn’t need to be accomplished all at one time, but over the course of the day.

This brings us to time. For many of us, the key to regular physical activity is finding the time to do it. Here are 10 tips to help you find the time be active during you normal work day.

– Buy comfortable walking shoes. Keep a pair in your car and office so that you’re ready when the opportunity arises.

– 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 to 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 enjoy eating at a peaceful place – or use your lunch break to go for a quick jog or for a workout in a nearby gym.

– Sneak in a brief walk after work before you get home. That way, you’ll be physically active before tending to dinner and other evening obligations.

– After work, join 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 day-off 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. 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.

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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension