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August 10, 2009, last updated August 28, 2015
By Susan M. Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
We've all heard the warnings about the dangers of being
sedentary. Higher risk of heart attacks and heart disease,
diabetes, stroke and obesity. But what exactly constitutes
being "sedentary"? How active do you have to be each day
to be considered "active", "moderately active" or "very
active"? And are there easy ways we can add more activity
to our daily lives?
How Dangerous is Being Sedentary to Your Health?
Several studies have confirmed that being sedentary
shortens your life. A 2010 study from the University of
South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health examined
the health records of 7744 men aged 20 to 89 to
determine whether watching television and riding in cars
endangered their health. After 21 years, those men who
had more than 23 hours a week of sedentary behavior
(combination of hours of watching television and riding in
cars) suffered 64% more cardiovascular deaths. Those
who reported riding in cars more than 10 hours a week
suffered 82% more cardiovascular deaths.
What Is An Active Lifestyle?
Most medical authorities define an active person as
someone who takes 10,000 steps a day. That's the magic
Given that there are 5,280 feet in a mile, basically, you will
need to walk 2 miles a day to be considered active.
Numerous studies have confirmed the importance of
walking 10,000 steps a day to your health.
For example, a 2000 study by Wakayama Medical College in
Japan found that walking 10,000 steps a day lowers your
blood pressure, irrespective of the intensity or duration of
your walk. So, either stroll or walk briskly, it doesn't
matter, as long as you get in your 10,000 steps a day.
Other studies have found that walking 10,000 steps a day
lowers blood sugar in diabetics.
Most of us, however, don't even come close. We are a
nation of inertia. The average American, it is estimated,
only walks about 1000 to 1200 steps a day. And most of
those steps , truth be told , are between the car and the
door to our offices. Or between the car and the door to our
house. We might squeeze in a step or 2 walking from the
refrigerator to the couch and back.
Small wonder, that over 60% of us are overweight. Over
30% of us are technically obese.
What Is the Absolute Minimum Amount of Exercise You
Should Do a Day?
But what if you're a dedicated couch potato? The real
question you want answered is what is the absolute
minimum amount of exercise you can get away with and
still improve your health? Can you still increase your
lifespan with just a little bit of effort?
Well, the surprising answer is "yes". One large study in
Taiwan examined the health profiles of 416,175 men
people. This 2011 study, led by Dr. Chi Pang Wen of the
National Health Research Institutes of Taiwan, discovered
that exercising for as little as 15 minutes a day reduces
your overall chances of dying from all causes by 14%.
And, for every extra 15 minutes a day you exercise, you
reduce your mortality risk by an additional 4% . The upper
limit for benefit appears to be about 60 minutes a day, after
which you enter the nightmarish statistical land of
"diminishing returns" --meaning you get less and less
benefit the more you put in.
How do we become less sedentary? Are there simple ways
to become more active in your day? How do we sneak in
some extra steps a day to become more active?
Here are 10 ways to become more active in our busy but
much too sedentary lives:
Take the Stairs. Taking the stairs can add muscle and
cardiovascular fitness to your day. When you walk upstairs,
you strengthen your quadriceps, the powerful muscles in
your thighs. These muscles help you to build up lean
muscle mass, which in turn speeds up your metabolism.
You then burn calories 24 hours a day, even as you sleep.
Track the number of stair steps you climb each day. Try to
climb at least 50 steps a day in your first week. In your
second week, increase that to 100 stair steps a day.
Fidget. Several studies have found that a key difference
between people who are "naturally skinny" and those who
are fat, is that skinny people tend to fidget more. Fidgeting
can burn up to 200 calories a day, enough to account for a
24 pound weight loss in a year. Just rock your knees when
you cross your legs to add more fidgeting to your day.
Park a Block Away. First, make sure that where you park is
safe and that your walking path is secure. Walking just an
extra block to and from your car can add 200 to 500 steps
If you take public transportation to commute to work, try
getting off a station before your stop and walking the
Use our Chair At Your Desk. If you work at a desk, use
your chair to help lose weight. Your chair is the perfect
height for helping you to do squats. In fact, every time you
stand up and sit down again, you have done a squat.
Squats are an extremely effective exercise in building
strength and lean muscle mass. Increase the squats you do
every day standing up and then lowering yourself to just
above your chair. Before you sit down, stand back up
again. Do 15 sets a before lunch and 15 sets after lunch
and you'll find that your legs will become stronger. You will
also improve your balance, making it less likely that you will
fall as you age.
Walk at Lunch. Got an hour for lunch. Instead of a long
hamburger break, take a walk with a friend. Get outside if
you can, even in winter. First, the air will do you some
good. It will clear your head and make you more
productive and happy. But, the cold air also can help you
lose weight, new studies show. Exposing your body to
cooler air can actually increase your bodies ability to burn
fat. Of course, the biggest benefit is that you will add
precious steps in your day. You can easily add 5000 steps
during lunch, if you work at it.
Mow Your Lawn. One of the reasons that we are fatter
than our parents, and our parents are fatter than or
grandparents were, is that our grandparents led more
active lives. Many earlier generations worked on farms or at
outside jobs. Our lives simply are not as physically
Dance. How long has it been since you danced? Most of us
stop dancing after we start working. Why is that? Why is it
that, for many people, the last time they danced was at
their weddings. Dancing is one of the best forms of
cardiovascular exercise. Make a point of dancing every day
for a song or two. Put on one of your favorite songs when
you get home. Dance a little in your room before you take a
shower in the mornings. Or at night before you go to bed.
Dances also reduces your risk for dementia by 76%. (Read
Take Out the Trash. Taking out the trash is a good way to
add steps to your day. Bending, lifting bags, and walking
them out the door add a few steps and work your arms.
Vacuum the Rug. Just as mowing the lawn burns calories
outside, vacuuming works the same muscles indoors. You
can burn up to 300 calories an hour just vacuuming around
Take the Kids to the Park or Walk Your Dog. You know they
want to go. The next time they ask, give in. The walk to the
park can add valuable steps to your day and your week.
Here's a bonus tip:
Wear a Pedometer. Studies have found that people who
count their steps, walk more.
A 2007 study from Stanford University found that
people who use pedometers increased their overall physical
activity by 26.9%. The pedometer wears walked an extra
2,183 steps a day.
So, buy an inexpensive pedometer. And wear it as you
count your 10,000 steps a day. It may just save your life.
But, whatever you do, do something. Move. Exercise is the
key to a longer life. Exercise is the one common key to all
long-living healthy cultures around the world. Stay hearty.
Stay active. Exercise lowers your risk from death from all
causes, studies show. Exercise reduces your risk for heart
disease, stroke and even cancer. Exercise boosts your
body's immune system and helps to keep you from getting
depressed. As Einstein said, "life is like riding a bicycle. To
maintain your balance, you must keep moving."
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