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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

The Holidays are over: Now Move It!
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By Lisa Jahns

In the not-so distant past, people were more interested in sitting down to  rest at the end of a long day, than in looking for ways to be morephysically active.  In addition, for many people, household chores, local travel, and even leisure time have become much less physically demanding than in the past, thanks in part to new technologies.

In the United States, we have been using the term exercise; however recent national Guidelines remind us that what we wish to increase is our physical activity.  Being physically active is healthy for our bodies, our brains, and our spirit. 

So what is the difference between exercise and physical activity? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, physical activity is "Any bodily movement produced by the contraction of skeletal muscle that increases energy expenditure above a basal level…and enhances health".  That means working harder than you would just sitting still.  Exercise is a subcategory of physical activity that is "performed during leisure time with the primary purpose of improving or maintaining physical fitness, physical performance, or health".

The current Guidelines for adults are to get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) each week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week. 

You can find more information on the Guidelines at http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivityand http://www.mypyramid.gov

We all know we should be more active. Yet somehow there is always something else that needs to be done that keeps us from the gym, allows the home exercise equipment to do double duty as a clothes rack, or let the dogs out in the back yard instead of taking them out for a walk.  

Along with meeting the physical activity recommendations, try to minimize the time you spend being sedentary.  Sitting is better than lying down, standing is better than sitting, and moving is better than standing.  Every little bit helps.

Below are some suggestions for incorporating the Guidelines for physical activity into our daily life.

At home

Probably the easiest way to be physically active is to put on your comfortable shoes and take a brisk walk.  An inexpensive pedometer can help you track your steps.  Aim for 10,000 steps each day, which is approximately 2.5 miles.  If you have dogs, they would love for you to take them to the Dog Park, a safe, fun place for you and your dogs to socialize and increase your activity.  See more information at http://www.gfparks.org/dogpark.htm

Many of us pile items near the stairs to "take up when I go upstairs".  If you have something to put away, do it.  It doesn't take much time to go up or downstairs, and is a good way to keep moving.  The same goes with taking recycling out to the bin.  The important thing is to keep moving.  Stretch to reach items in high places and squat to retrieve at floor level. 

Do you have a piece of exercise equipment that you just haven't been using?  If you have a favorite television show you like to watch, replace your chair with the treadmill (or whatever).  It may not match the décor, but this is your health.  The key here is to start slowly; as you become used to the activity, you can increase the speed. 

At work

We sit more at work than we do when we are not at work.  Try to reduce your sitting time.  Park as far away from the building as possible.  If you work in a multi-story building, take the stairs instead of the elevator - if you have to go slowly, that is fine.  Use the restroom on another floor.  Use part of your break to go up and down the stairs a few times, and walk the length of the building.  Walk with purpose, don't amble.  Instead of email, take a brisk walk to visit with your co-worker.  Stand and pace while you are talking on the phone.  Or, you learn to fidget.  That's right!  Researchers at the Mayo clinic describe something called NEAT - non-exercise activity thermogenesis (also known as the "fidget factor").  NEAT includes activities that are not moderate-intensity, such as shopping, talking, and doing dishes, but also includes such things as tapping your toes, playing video games, chewing gum, and moving around your office. 

Out and about

Make a game with your family to park as far from the store as possible when you shop, instead of driving around trying to find the closest spot.  At the grocery store, if you are just picking up a few items, carry a shopping basket (or better yet, bring your reusable grocery bags from home).
 
A gallon of milk weighs about eight and a half pounds, making it perfect for bicep curls while waiting in the checkout line.  Try using active transportation (walking, biking, skiing) to get to your destination, especially if it is less than a mile away.  Try walking to the store on a weekend, well unless you're afraid you'll have too many holiday gifts to carry! 

The key is, just keep on moving!


Last Modified: 1/11/2010