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
Can’t find time to get to the gym? Slip into your comfy shoes and take a 15 minute stroll after each meal. According to a new study from George Washington University, this habit can help normalize blood sugar levels for up to three hours after eating, and slash the risk of developing type 2 diabetes better than a sustained 45-minute walk.
In the study, scientists recruited healthy adults age 60 and older who were at risk of developing type 2 diabetes due to inactivity and high fasting blood sugar levels. Researchers found that three short post-meal walks, at an easy-to-moderate pace, were as effective as one 45 minute walk at regulating blood sugar over a 24 hour period. What's more, the post-meal walks were found to be more effective in normalizing blood sugar after meals - the "riskiest" time, when blood sugar spikes the most.
To reap the benefits yourself, try out these techniques:
- Build a post-breakfast neighborhood walk into your morning routine
- Spend the last 15 minutes of your lunch break walking, either indoors or outside
- Recruit a family member or neighbor to join you in post-dinner walks
- If you have a canine family member, plan to walk your furry friend after meals whenever possible
- Keep your walking gear, like shoes, a light jacket, and perhaps a flashlight, in a designated location so you can just ‘grab and go’
- Try a new path or route around your neighborhood so your walks feel fun and ‘fresh’
For more about the benefits of walking, check out my previous post: Walking How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways
Sometimes clients ask me, “If I only have time for one type of exercise, what should I do?” Truth be told, all three components of fitness – aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility training - are essential for different reasons, but getting your heart rate up is likely the most effective for weight and fat loss. At least that’s the conclusion of newly released research, funded by the National Institutes of Health.
In the study, over 230 previously inactive overweight or obese men and women between the ages of 18 and 70 were randomly assigned to one of three eight-month fitness regimes. The first exercised aerobically at about 70-85% of their maximum heart rate for 45 minutes three days a week. The second performed resistance training three days a week, which included three sets of 8-12 repetitions on eight machines, to target major muscle groups. The third performed both workout routines.
Scientists found that the volunteers who exercised aerobically, and those who performed both aerobic and strength training, lost greater amounts of weight and body fat, and whittled their waistlines more than those who simply completed resistance training. In fact, the resistance only group actually gained weight, due to an increase in muscle mass.
Based on this study, if your number one goal is weight loss, grab your walking shoes and get outside, or jump on the treadmill. But for but optimal health, carve out some time for strength training, which you can accomplish without going to the gym (check out my previous post about the worthwhile benefits and a simple home-based program) and end each session by stretching, for all the reasons outlined here. If you’re having trouble getting started, check out my post about readiness. And if you have a personal success story, or you’ve found a new favorite way to be active, please share it with me via Twitter or Facebook.