Most of us, myself included, can’t seem to avoid being inactive for a significant part of the day. When the work we do involves being chair-bound, like responding to emails, writing reports, and attending meetings, it’s difficult to avoid sitting on our bums, often for far longer than we’d like. And this “sitting disease” as scientists call it, is bad for our health. Up to 70 percent of us spend six or more hours a day sitting, and our sedentary ways are linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, as well as breast and colon cancers.
But, there’s a solution - one that requires just minutes a day, and can significantly enhance your health. Researchers in New Zealand assessed a group of 70 normal weight adults, and found that taking a break from sitting every 30 minutes, and performing a brief minute and 40 second burst of exercise, helped decrease blood sugar levels. In fact, blood sugar readings improved even more than in a second test group, who sat for nine hours straight, then exercised for 30 continuous minutes. In addition, compared to one bout of lengthy exercise, short, frequent exercise breaks were more effective at lowering post-meal blood sugar levels, which is important for staving off conditions like type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
To take advantage of this savvy strategy, try putting the following tips into action:
- Set an alarm to go off every half an hour, as a reminder to stand up and walk in place for a few minutes.
- Keep a jump rope handy, and jump or skip during your “sitting breaks.”
- When talking on the phone, walk around your office or home instead of sitting.
- While watching TV at night, stay active. During each commercial, perform simple exercises you can do right in your living room, like the ones in my metabolism-boosting workout video and belly flattening video.
- If you’re working on the computer, sit while you type, but stand while you read.
In addition to protecting your health, this simple tactic can also improve your circulation, and may even boost you productivity – pretty great payoffs for relatively small changes to your usual routines.
Can’t seem to squeeze workouts in during the week? According to a recent study from Queen’s University in Canada, active but “infrequent exercisers” who mainly worked out on weekends were just as healthy as those who exercise daily.
Researchers studied over 2,000 adults between the ages of 18 to 64 from across Canada, to determine if exercise frequency impacted the risk of being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors that raise the chances of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. To be diagnosed, you must have at least three of these five conditions:
- A large waistline - over 35 inches for women, and over 40 inches for men
- High blood pressure – a level of 135/85 or higher
- A high level of triglycerides – 150 or above
- Low "good" HDL cholesterol - less than 40 for men, or less than 50 for women (60 or higher is optimal)
- High fasting blood sugar – 110 or higher
Scientists found that metabolic syndrome risk wasn’t higher in “weekend warriors” (those who worked out only on the weekends) - as long as they accumulated a minimum of 150 minutes (two and a half hours) of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, the current weekly target from the World Health Organization.
In other words, if you struggle to consistently exercise Monday through Friday, planning active weekends may help you stay fit and stave off long-term health risks. Here are five ways to meet the 150+ minute target, and have fun doing it:
Go hiking with your family and friends, and plan a post-hike picnic or potluck.
Organize a fun team sport, like soccer, basketball, tennis, or beach volleyball.
Get your friends together to play active video games, like Dance Revolution.
Go dancing – in many cities local restaurants offers free dance lessons, from swing to tango.
In addition to going to the gym or getting on the treadmill, take a group fitness class you’ve always wanted to try, like Zumba or power yoga.
How do you stay active on the weekends? Tweet to @CynthiaSass
The notion that laughter is the best medicine has probably existed for years, but the first real proof surfaced in the 1970s when Norman Cousins, a writer and magazine editor of the popular Saturday Review, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. He believed that if stress could worsen his health, which was known at the time, than laughter could improve it. With the approval of his doctor, he tested the theory on himself, by prescribing funny videos, and his disease went into remission. He wrote a paper about his experience, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, as well as a best selling book, Anatomy of an Illness: A Patient’s Perspective, and opened our eyes to the connection between laughter and wellness.
Since that time dozens of formal studies have been published, and the findings are amazing:
Laughter boosts hormones, including beta-endorphins, which elevate mood and human growth hormone, which helps boost immunity. In one study, just anticipating watching a funny video sent the hormones surging by 27% and 87% respectively.
A good belly laugh can also lower harmful stress hormones, including cortisol, which triggers an increase in belly fat, and adrenaline, which can weaken the immune system when it remains elevated.
Laughter has also been shown to lower “bad” (lousy LDL) cholesterol, raise “good” (happy HDL), decrease blood pressure, and cause your body to respond in a way that’s similar to moderately intense exercise. Isn’t the human body amazing?!
One of the reasons I went back to school to get a second master’s degree in public health was because I knew that nutrition alone can’t completely determine wellness. I often ask my clients about their sleep patterns, social support, and even, “When’s the last time you laughed really hard?” or “How many times a day do you laugh?”
Children laugh 300-400 times a day, even when they’re not provoked to laugh. Adults laugh about 15 times a day, but “filter” their responses, which kids don’t do.
I suggest taking Mr. Cousins’ lead, and prescribing yourself some comedy. In other words, a 5-10 minute YouTube detour isn’t a waste of time – it’s kind of like fitting in a workout! Below is my favorite funny video - no matter how many times I watch, it always makes me laugh out loud :)
I'm a former runner turned walker, and in my opinion, walking is the perfect exercise. Here are 10 reasons why I hope you'll fall in love with walking too:
10. Walking has been shown to boost your immunity, open up circulation, and improve digestion, all of which play a role in preventing cancer.
9. Regular walks boost bone density, and protect against the loss of bone tissue as you age.
8. Walking lowers blood pressure, "bad" or lousy LDL cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.
7. Walking is versatile - you can walk alone, with your family, your dog, or with a friend.
6. All it takes is a good pair of shoes – no gym membership or special equipment needed.
5. You already know how. It's second nature - after all, you've been doing it since you were about one year old!
4. Walking improves mental and physical stamina. Instead of draining you, a brisk walk can actually help your energy level soar and boost your productivity.
3. A single walk can transform your body image. Research shows that all forms of exercise improve personal body satisfaction, even without weight loss. That means in one 30 minute walk, you can return home feeling entirely different in your own skin.
2. Research shows that when the same distance is covered, walking is just as effective as running for both health and weight control. In a Duke University study, runners and walkers lost nearly identical amounts of body weight, body fat, and belly fat.
1. It just feels good before, during, and after! Walking helps reduce stress, lessen feelings of depression and anxiety, improve sleep quality, and boost overall mood. Now that's powerful.