While it’s true that a treadmill technically takes you nowhere, it can still help deliver you to better fitness…
May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, and now that the warmer weather is here, it is a perfect time to get more physically active. Regular physical activity is key to improving your overall health.
Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
(from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services):
– Adults: at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes/week of vigorous activity, plus two or more days of muscle-strengthening (older adults 65+ should include balance activity to enhance functional capacity and prevent falls).
– Children: at least 60 minutes per day of moderate- to vigorous-intensity
Depending on your current activity level, these recommendations may seem excessive or challenging. However, doing SOMETHING is always better than doing NOTHING, and even light-intensity activity or shorter duration can have benefits and offset some of the risks of being sedentary. It may seem difficult to fit regular exercise into your busy daily schedule, but start small and build up over time. If you can’t find time for a more extended block, try breaking it into shorter exercise chunks. Even 5 or 10 minutes can help and would be exponentially better than sitting that long. The important thing is making regular physical activity a part of your lifestyle.
Multiple forms of exercise work the body in different ways and the most benefit comes from a combination:
- Aerobic (endurance): activities that increase heart rate and breathing to keep the cardiovascular and respiratory systems healthy and improve overall fitness, especially endurance. Examples include walking, jogging, swimming, and biking.
- Resistance (strength) training: exercises that work muscle groups to increase strength. Examples are weight-lifting and using resistance bands.
- Balance: exercises to improve overall stability, which can prevent falls. Examples include tai chi and dedicated balance drills.
- Flexibility: exercises to stretch connective tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments) to stay limber. Examples are yoga and dedicated stretching activity.
Why does it matter?
Physical inactivity is a leading contributor and risk factor for many chronic diseases, such as hypertension, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain cancers, and more (20-30% overall increased risk compared to active individuals).
“About half of all American adults—117 million people— have one or more preventable chronic diseases. Seven of the ten most common chronic diseases are improved by regular physical activity. Yet nearly 80 percent of adults do not meet the key guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity, while only about half meet the key guidelines for aerobic physical activity. Lack of physical activity is linked to approximately $117 billion in annual health care costs.” – Former U.S. HHS Secretary Alex M. Azar II
There are tremendous benefits to physical activity and maintaining fitness, including:
- Decreased risk of all-cause mortality, including cardiovascular and other diseases
- Stress reduction & relaxation
- Improved sleep
- Improved energy levels and enhanced mood (reduced depression and anxiety)
- Maintenance of strong bones and joints.
- Increased muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness to enhance physical function to complete activities of daily living
- Lowered risk of falls and injury (reduced risk of hip & vertebral fractures)
- Improve cognitive functioning and outcomes (academic performance and executive function) with decreased risk of dementia
- Help maintain healthy body weight with reduced overall body fat
- And more
Exercise is cumulative as the more you perform, the greater the benefits, especially when started early in life, translating to improved fitness later in life.
Suggestions & ideas to get your body moving:
Our ancestors of not that long ago would certainly think we are crazy and would be shocked at how much the world has changed when we have to take time and even pay money to deliberately exercise our bodies to stay ‘fit’ as our lives are relatively sedentary in comparison, but realize there are countless opportunities to be more physically active at work, at school, and at home…
- Walk recreationally (briskly)
- Walk the dog
- Park your car further away to maximize the distance to walk
- Take the stairs over the elevator or escalator (walking w/ steps)
- Walk the golf course instead of using a cart (walking w/ golf clubs)
- Hike (walking w/more challenging terrain)
- Jog or run (like walking, but faster)
- Walk during lunch or other breaks (paid walking). Yes! I’m a fan of walking as fundamental and straightforward.
- Work fitness breaks (at least once an hour with various activities, such as pushups, squats, jumping jacks or walking a circuit, etc.)
- Commercial break fitness (i.e., hold a plank, perform jumping jacks or jog in place the entire commercial break)
- Complete a fitness circuit or obstacle course
- Join the gym
- Take fitness classes (i.e., spin cycling, Zumba, etc.) or martial arts.
- Take dance lessons
- Join a community sports league, such as softball, soccer, basketball, etc.
- Try a new sport or activity (i.e., pickleball, ultimate frisbee, etc.)
- Exercise while engaging with your kids and family (i.e., a family walk or bike ride, throw a football or frisbee, play soccer, tennis or volleyball, etc.)
- Encourage children to participate at home and school (cultivate the importance of physical activity when young to instill lifelong habits).
- Perform a family fitness night (old-school field day, Olympic events, etc.)
- Plant and care for a garden.
- Attend a community fitness fair
- Sign up for a 5k or 10k (or other race) as motivation
- Bike to work (or anywhere). The 3rd Friday in May is National Bike to Work Day.
- Swim or take your kids to a pool and get in with them
- Get outdoors and do something fun (hike, bike, ski, etc.)
- Put on some music and dance.
Remember to exercise safely with proper equipment to prevent injuries and listen to your body not to overdo it, especially if starting.
Exercise alone can’t achieve optimal health:
You can’t out-train a bad diet, so don’t forget about what goes in your mouth as it can make a huge difference in your overall health and fitness. Ultimately, the number one reason people are overweight is from eating too many calories. Most don’t understand portion control as it may seem appropriate because they’ve been eating that amount their entire life. It is the social norm with everyone else eating similar portions. Still, most people are eating way too much. It’s not just about quantity, though, as the quality of food can make a big difference in not only your health but how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. You indeed are what you eat. Fat must be fed…muscle must be worked.
Bottom line if you read nothing else:
My advice is straightforward – do something, do anything to be more active. It doesn’t have to be complicated or highly time-consuming. Starting with small steps can get you there. Even just 5 minutes can be enough to build on. Slow and steady wins this race. The human body is designed for movement, not to be still. Ultimately, we need to move more and sit less as the point is to get more active and move your body because if you don’t move it… you lose it, but you must take action as no one will do it for you, and it doesn’t get any easier. Choose activities that you enjoy as it is much simpler to make it a habit if you are doing something you want.
Now is the time to get more active and healthy as new habits can’t be formed without first starting to act. Before long, it will be a routine that you won’t be able to go without. Your future self will thank you…and you can accomplish being active for life!
World Health Organization
American College of Sports Medicine
Health.gov Physical Activity Guidelines (https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf)
By Matthew Cameron, DO
Canyon View Sports Medicine