If you asked a room full of people their main excuse for giving exercise the short shrift, I’ll bet the answer would be time … not enough of it, that is.
It’s no wonder. In our fast-paced world, it’s easy to let our bloated must-do lists take precedence over our want-to-dos.
So exercise falls by the wayside.
I, a father of 4 with a full-time job, am as guilty as the next guy.
Though I’m loathe to admit it, I am guilty of using my hectic schedule to edge out exercise.
New research may challenge your assumptions
But I just read some new research with some surprising findings: A long, strenuous workout isn’t necessarily the best way to address 2 of the biggest benefits of exercise: keeping blood sugar and cholesterol levels in check. This is especially true for those of us who spend the bulk of the day sitting down.
In a study published in the journal PLoS One, researchers asked participants to follow 3 exercise regimes for 4 days each.
Group #1: Be sedentary all day.
Group #2: Do vigorous exercise for 1 hour and then stay mostly seated for the rest of the day.
Group #3: Walk or stand for several hours and spend little time sitting around.
Between each of these, participants were asked to go back to their regular routine for 10 days.1
To no one’s surprise, the sedentary group fared the worst.
But while groups 2 and 3 expended similar numbers of calories throughout the day, group 3 had significantly lower blood cholesterol and insulin levels, not to mention better insulin function.
In the long run, that can help reduce the risk of developing ailments such as diabetes or heart disease.
Move throughout the day
What I take from this study is that “working out” is not the be all and end all. What’s key is to move throughout the day. Sneak in exercise whenever you can.
To that end, I’ve collected a list of things you can do throughout the day to keep strong and flexible and to keep burning calories.
When the alarm rings: Do some gentle stretches.
- Lying on your back, bring your knees into your chest to gently stretch your lower back, holding the back of your thighs for support.
- Bend 1 knee and put the sole of that foot on the mattress. Then extend the other leg straight up, holding on to the back of the thigh to stretch your hamstrings.
- Drop both knees together to one side and reach your arms to the opposite side, then reverse to stretch the spine.
- Reach your arms in both directions as long as you can to lengthen your spine.
While making the bed: Crank up some cheery (or even cheesy) music and have at it! Exaggerate all your movements. Do a few extra squats when you tuck in the sheets, bending from the hips and knees, not the back. (The motion is almost like you’re sitting in a chair, making sure your knees never go farther forward than your toes.)
While waiting for your coffee to brew: Do push-ups against the wall or countertop.
- Stand at arm’s length from the wall or counter, then place your hands flat on the wall or on the edge of the counter about shoulder-width apart.
- Stand up straight, keep your feet on the floor and your abs tucked in tight, then lower yourself into a push-up against the wall or edge of the countertop.
- Keep it slow to create more resistance.
Before you leave for work: Take Fido for an extra lap around the block. Your heart will thank you, and so will Fido.
When you get to your office: Skip the elevator and take the stairs. If you work on the 37th floor, take the elevator to floor 31 and climb the remaining 6 flights.
At your desk: Keep a set of hand weights at your desk and set a timer to go off every hour. When the timer beeps, take a lap around the office, then sit back down and do some biceps curls, triceps kickbacks or shoulder presses.
After lunch: Take a stroll around the block with a co-worker.
After work: Do some yard work. But don’t rely on the power tools. Use a hand mower, rake the leaves instead of using a leaf blower, or water the lawn with a hand-held hose, so you have to walk the perimeter of your yard.
While you’re grocery shopping: Ditch the shopping cart and choose a basket instead. You’ll be forced to use your arm strength, as well as engage your core and legs. You’ve got too much loot? Pay for your items, put them in the car, then come back in for another round.
Before bed: Do a little yoga. Child’s Pose can help relieve tension and calm your mind to help you fall asleep faster.
- Kneel on the floor. Touch your big toes together and sit on your heels, then separate your knees about as wide as your hips.
- Exhale and lay your torso down between your thighs. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis while lifting the base of your skull away from the back of your neck.
- Put your hands on the floor alongside your torso, palms up.
- Stay this way, anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes.
Of course, I recommend that you consult with your personal physician before beginning any exercise program — whether it’s an intense “workout” or busting a move while making the bed.
Speaking of making the bed … That suggestion is my favorite. I tried it this morning and scored some extra points with my wife, Melanie. What is your favorite?
Steven Sisskind, M.D.
1. Duvivier BM, Schaper NC, Bremers MA, et al. Minimal intensity physical activity (standing and walking) of longer duration improves insulin action and plasma lipids more than shorter periods of moderate to vigorous exercise (cycling) in sedentary subjects when energy expenditure is comparable. PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e55542. PMID: 23418444.