Why small moves can get you back in shape

If you want to get in better shape but can’t stand the idea of ​​kettlebells and push-ups, just get moving.

Doctors say the widespread withdrawal of Americans from their homes over the past two years has made us more sedentary and less healthy. We tend to think that intense, vigorous workouts will get us back into shape, but doctors suggest starting small. Simple movements, such as standing, walking, balancing, stretching, even fidgeting, can improve your fitness and are essential for overall health, they say. And we’re not doing enough now.

Exercise is only part of overall fitness. People who run several times a week or hit other training goals, only to sit at a desk for hours afterward are called “sedentary athletes,” says Carl Andersen, medical director of executive health. at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

“If you’re sitting every two hours of the day, you’re not going to be healthy,” he says.

Daily rituals like going to the office or the store — and the little moves we make while on the go — help us stay fit. Getting from the parking lot to the office, walking down the hall to see a colleague, going to meetings and running errands gets people moving and burns calories, doctors say.

Studies show that low-intensity movement is also essential for heart health and disease prevention. A sedentary lifestyle, defined by Dr. Andersen as sitting more than five hours a day, is associated with an increased risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. According to scientists, uninterrupted sitting can interfere with the proper functioning of blood vessels and accelerate atherosclerosis, hardening and narrowing of arteries.

Finding ways to add small movements to your day can be hugely beneficial to your health – no kettlebells needed.

According to several studies, low-intensity walking can prevent some of the adverse effects on the vascular system. According to a 2015 study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, walking for 5 minutes on a treadmill at just 2 miles per hour was enough to prevent significant damage to the main blood vessel that supplies blood to the lower body.

Even fidgeting helps. In one study published in 2016 in the American Journal of Physiology, 11 University of Missouri students were asked to hold one leg still and wiggle the other while they sat in one place for three hours. With the leg flailing, they were asked to lift their heels up and down and bounce their knees for 1 minute at 5-minute intervals. The students averaged about 250 taps per minute.

The heel tap was enough to offset the harmful effects of prolonged sitting on a key part of the vascular system, likely through the intermittent increase in blood flow, the researchers found.

Dr. Andersen says he started prescribing specific types of movement after seeing a striking decline in patient health over the past two years. Their blood pressure went up and their cholesterol levels got worse, he says. Many have gained a lot of weight despite adhering to pre-pandemic workout routines.

“I had to blame the changes on the fact that they were sitting,” he says.

He knows how much the step relies on his own smartwatch that drops on days he’s behind a desk versus when he walks from room to room seeing patients.

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Doctor’s orders: Get up and move between or during Zoom meetings. Try not to sit for more than an hour at a time. If that’s not possible, he tells his patients, stomp your feet. Shake. Attend virtual meetings standing up, walking outside, or on a treadmill. Sit in a balance chair that requires you to move to stay upright. Pedal under the desk on a crankset, which is like bicycle pedals without the bike.

Just walking down the hall and back can have dramatic effects, he says. Small movements alone cannot completely restore fitness, but low-intensity activities like walking help avoid the worst results.

There are no specific guidelines for low intensity activities as there are for higher intensity activities. The World Health Organization has guidelines for moderate and vigorous intensity activities; his recommendation for low intensity activity basically involves moving more and sitting less.

Lauren Bates, an exercise physiologist and doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is part of an effort by the university’s Human Movement Research Laboratory to develop guidelines for limit sedentary behavior.

The group’s findings so far: We shouldn’t sit for more than 20-30 minutes at a time without getting up for 2-5 minutes of low-intensity activity like standing or walking.

These recommendations, based on the review and analysis of existing research by his group and others, may seem difficult to achieve when many remote workers are on back-to-back zooms that essentially weld them to their chairs all day.

Interruptions, however, can be as minimal as a few squats or calf raises, Ms. Bates says. She suggests keeping a set of light dumbbells or exercise bands near your desk and taking brief breaks to do a few yoga poses or just dance. (Search “five minute dance workout” on YouTube and you get hundreds of choices, she says.) At UNC, her co-workers take group breaks to stand up during Zoom meetings; some do jumping jacks. One of his professors made it mandatory one day that students attend his entire virtual classroom while taking walks outside.

Ms Bates says moving around during lessons engaged her more, as she wasn’t checking emails and wasn’t distracted. “I was moving and my brain was stimulated.”

get started

Dr. Andersen counsels his patients on calorie counting. According to a person’s weight, he says:

  • Sitting and working (or watching Netflix) burns about 100 calories per hour
  • Getting up to work burns 50-75 extra calories per hour
  • Stomping or fidgeting: 50 to 75 extra calories per hour
  • Pedaling through an hour-long Zoom meeting using an under-desk pedalboard: about 300 calories per hour

And from calorie counters like those found on the University of Rochester Medical Center, the calorie control advice, the American Council on Exercise and Harvard Health Publishing:

  • Walk down the hall at a leisurely pace: 159 calories per hour
  • Shopping: about 252 calories per hour
  • Rushing to a meeting or getting on a plane: 300 to 400 calories per hour
  • Running: 672 to 1,386 calories per hour, depending on your speed

Write to Betsy Morris at [email protected]

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