Resolve to Keep Moving
Many people put exercise on their list of New Year’s resolutions—but as we head into 2021, that may be a challenge! Experts report that these days, many people are getting less exercise than normal. Many of our usual activities may be unsafe during the pandemic, and we’re spending more time inside. But we should still make physical activity a priority.
During the past decade or so, there’s been a change in the way healthy aging experts view the role of physical activity. Formerly, the recommendation was mostly to have a regular routine of activities that included aerobic, muscle-building and flexibility exercises.
This is still good advice. But more and more, experts are finding that even if we work out every day, our health can suffer if we sit down for the rest of the day. This new understanding applies to just about everyone, regardless of their health condition.
For example, today “complete bed rest” is seldom prescribed for most people who are hospitalized. And yet even if we are in pretty good health, our lifestyle might be called “couch rest” or “desk rest.” Americans of every age might sit at a desk all day, and then plop down in front of the TV or gaming console for most of the evening. Bad idea!
Recent studies revealed the damage caused when we sit down for most of our waking hours. Leading a largely sedentary lifestyle:
Raises the rate of many diseases. Kansas State University researchers found that people who sit most of the day have a higher rate of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke and other serious conditions.
Impairs blood flow. University of Indiana researchers say sitting affects our arteries, cutting down blood flow by half after just one hour of sitting. And the American Heart Association warns that inactivity raises the risk of blood clots.
Increases disability. Northwestern University School of Medicine researchers found that for seniors, every additional hour per day spent seated raises the risk of disability.
Leads to back pain. Our bodies aren’t designed for chairs, say many experts. Beyond the inactivity, the sitting posture is hard for our spines.
Breaking the sitting habit—every little bit helps!
It’s beneficial to break up our days with small bouts of exercise. Oregon State University professor Brad Cardinal recommends enough one or two-minute increments to add up to 30 minutes during the day. Says Cardinal, “We are designed by nature as beings who are supposed to move. In our society, you will always be presented with things that entice you to sit or be less active because of technology, like using a leaf blower instead of a rake.” His colleague Paul Loprinzi advises, “Seek out opportunities to be active when the choice is available. For example, rather than sitting while talking on the phone, use this opportunity to get in some activity by pacing around.”
Exercise need not be formal or even planned. If you’re physically able, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Stand up from your desk and stretch several times an hour to be kind to your back. Keep some weights by the couch and use them while watching TV. For a little extra motivation, invest in a pedometer to see how you’re doing. A 2020 study from University of California, San Diego found that even spending more time standing up can be beneficial.
Almost everyone can add motion to their days. People with health conditions should consult with their doctor for a “prescription” for physical activity. The American Geriatrics Society says that at any age, adding even small increments of exercise can help, both physically and psychologically. Even if we are unable to stand without assistance, we can still add motion, and that’s a benefit too.
The information in this article is not meant to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor about an exercise plan that’s right for you, and safe at this time.