Well it’s that time of year again when many of us reflect on the events of the closing year and look forward to the new year with intentions of making some positive changes in the form of New Year’s Resolutions. One of the most common resolutions, and one that is definitely worth the planning and effort that go into it, is to get more exercise. With so much evidence of the many benefits of physical activity (PA), one would think that everyone would include it in their daily schedule. Unfortunately, that is not the case as most Americans have adopted a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle and as a result suffer unnecessarily from the many diseases that scientific findings have connected with that lifestyle. Sadly, over 80 percent of adults do not meet the Healthy People 2020 objectives for aerobic PA and muscle-strengthening activity and are putting themselves at risk for obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, loss of bone mass, certain types of cancer, and other health problems.
These dangers, however, are easier to combat than one might think. Creating intentional and deliberate plans to avoid prolonged periods of little or no movement is an attainable approach for most people, but a commitment to some level of PA must be made. The best framework for developing a plan can be found in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans and can be accessed at https://health.gov/paguidelines/default.aspx. The Guidelines state that to attain substantial health benefits, adults should engage in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic PA or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic PA (or an equivalent mix of moderate and vigorous PA). For even greater health benefits, the aerobic recommendations are doubled (300 minutes moderate, 150 minutes vigorous, or an equivalent combination).
WALKING TO BETTER HEALTH
Although moderate physical activity such as brisk walking is safe for most people, it is always recommended that you talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program. One easily adopted plan to get started with initial activity is simply to start walking, and research clearly points to the benefits of a simple walking/moving plan. While higher intensity activity levels can produce greater fitness gains, walking is clearly recognized as an efficient and attainable avenue toward better health. Because walking is less intensive than running and some other modes of PA, one may need to walk longer or more often to accumulate these benefits. A moderate to vigorous walking program can help reduce the previously listed risks of inactivity and can even help reduce mental stress. Walking also comes with reduced risk of injury (when compared to higher intensity activities) due to its low impact on the musculoskeletal structures of the body.
Several researchers have explored how much walking is needed to meet the PA Guidelines, and some governments, agencies, and professional organizations have made recommendations of how many steps per day are needed for healthy adults to meet PA guidelines. As a result, attainment of 10,000 steps per day has become a popular goal, and devices that count steps (pedometers, accelerometers, and step-counting fitness bands and watches) tend to recommend this as a daily goal. The Physical Activity Guidelines state that “some physical activity is better than none”, so any reasonable goal beyond a sedentary level would be beneficial. Leading research in this arena has identified 8000-11,000 steps per day as adequate to meet the guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. Accumulating over 11,000 steps would lead to the attainment of even greater health benefits.
One final piece of information might be helpful for those who sit much of the day. Research has implicated prolonged sitting, even independent of physical activity, in premature death, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity, with the condition being known as “sitting disease”. The good news is that taking periodic breaks from sitting is correlated with positive metabolic profiles and lower risks related to waist circumference, body mass index, triglyceride levels and blood glucose levels. Simply standing in place of sitting triggers beneficial processes in relation to the breaking down of sugars and fats in the body and recent research shows benefits can be attained through PA in short time sessions – even less than ten minutes in duration, called ‘non-bout activity’. Non-bout activity is an excellent avenue to minimizing prolonged periods of sedentary behavior so periodically break up times of inactivity by walking around the office or the block, taking the stairs, doing light calisthenics, performing some light housework, walking the dog, or performing some active tasks that need to be completed. Stand, stretch, walk and move – just don’t sit there!
We wish you the best 2019 ever – especially with any resolutions that you might make. If they include getting more PA, then get up, get moving, and enjoy the pursuit of a higher level of health and wellness that will provide benefits for the rest of your life.