Thanks to the convenience of technology and our modern lifestyles, people in the U.S. are more inactive than ever. Whether we’re sitting behind desks, hunched over laptops all day for work, or lounging around binging our favorite shows, Americans simply aren’t as physically active as we used to be – and that’s a problem.
According to the American Heart Association, only about one in five adults and teens get enough exercise to maintain good health. Physical activity is one of the keys to preventing heart disease which is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. Being more active can help all people think, feel and sleep better and perform daily tasks more easily.
When you sit for long periods of time, your body doesn’t work as well as it can and actually begins to adapt to the lack of activity in negative ways. You don’t burn as many calories as you would while standing or doing another activity, which can make it harder to stay at a healthy weight.
Science has linked being inactive and sitting too much with higher risk of heart disease. Your heart is a muscle, just like the ones in your arms and legs. The more you use it, the stronger and more efficient it becomes. When you’re active, your blood pumps through your arteries, helping to keep them healthy and functioning well. Regular cardiovascular exercise, the kind that raises your heart rate and makes you breathe heavily, helps improve your quality of life while reducing many of your risks for heart disease. It can:
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol
- Reduce blood sugar levels
- Help with weight control
It’s clear that being more active benefits everyone and helps us live longer, healthier lives, but in our busy lives, what are we supposed to do?
The good news is that you can start on the road to good heart health without the need to hit the gym for hours on end or running marathons. Physical activity is anything that moves your body and burns calories. This includes things like walking, climbing stairs, stretching, and yes, even standing instead of sitting.
When you begin any activity, do it slowly to avoid injury and don’t get discouraged. Set incremental goals and break up activity into smaller portions of time working your way up to longer sessions.
Be thoughtful about your choice of activity. Non-weight bearing exercise, such as swimming or water aerobics, are less stressful to your joints. Doing a variety of activities keeps things interesting and involves different muscle groups.
Even the little things can make a big difference. The recommendations are for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity, but light-intensity activity can offset the effects of being sedentary. Get creative throughout your day to incorporate extra steps and movement; walk to a co-worker’s office instead of sending an email, take standing breaks while working at your desk, pick a parking spot that’s farther from the entrance, choose the stairs over the elevator.
If you have young children or grandchildren, make them part of the activity. Hula hoop, jump rope, and dance with them. If your days are packed, consider breaking your workout into 10-minute blocks; the rewards are the same. Home exercise videos can provide a convenient workout or alternative for rainy days. Whatever you do, make it fun. Ask a friend to walk or enjoy a class with you—it’s a great way to stay motivated and satisfy your craving for social time, too. Beyond regular “exercise workouts”, leading an active lifestyle has been shown to be immensely beneficial to your overall health so make it a point to keep your body in motion.
You don’t have to say goodbye to your favorite shows, hit permanent pause of your latest video game quest, or throw out your television and devices, but you do need to be mindful of how much time you spend doing sedentary activities instead of being physically active.
Thomas Scott, D.O., is a cardiologist with UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute and sees patients at the Health Innovation Center, 740 High St., Williamsport. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Scott, call 570-321-2800, and to learn more about UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute services, go to UPMC.com/HeartNCPA.