Most of us want to live long healthy lives, and we know we’re supposed to exercise, but going to a gym can seem like just too much. And then there’s the time it takes. “I don’t have time to exercise” seems to be the number one excuse for avoiding the couch when we’re not at work or meeting our endless responsibilities. Now there’s some good news about just how much we need to move our bodies and how we can fit that in to our busy days.
A new study from the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health , seen in Runner’s World, found that women’s sweet spot for how much to exercise was 30-60 minutes a day. For men it was longer. For every 30 minutes a day more than that half hour minimum, men increased their odds of turning 90 by 5 percent. Researchers followed some of them past the age of 90. And exercise does not have to be all at one time. Even if you hate the idea of a workout of an hour, think about what some have called “exercise snacks”. This idea appeals, because it reminds me of small bites. You don’t have to do too much all at once. For instance, research in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism found that climbing a few flights of stairs morning, noon and night does count as a workout. These mini sessions of doing something that requires vigorous effort a few times a day can be very effective in boosting fitness over time. The people studied in that research were climbing three flights of stairs at a session. That might seem like a lot for a beginner with exercise, but many of us can climb one flight of stairs to start and then gradually build from there. The point here is that small amounts of effort add up and we have opportunities for them throughout our days if we are looking for them.
For me personally, in the field of aging, and hearing about loss of capacity, dementia, physical immobility and such with client’s families every day, I am intent on avoiding all that. I’m an exerciser, trying to get in at least my half hour each day in every way I can and ideally going for the full 60 minutes. I walk my dog, going as fast as I can along a route that has a hill in it. I think going up the hill is more than an exercise snack–it feels like a full meal. I live in a two story house. My new effort at exercise snacks is to jog up those stairs, which is several times a day. My office is upstairs in a building with no elevator. Yep, jogging upstairs there too now. Yes I do other athletics as well, but I’m just talking about the everyday things that can add some minutes here and there for moving rather than sitting. I haven’t added up my “exercise snack minutes” yet, but that’s next. Parking far away from the store so I have to walk farther to get there counts. So does taking out the trash cans with “vigorous” pulling, vacuuming the carpet, and carrying heavy grocery bags upstairs. (No jogging with bags!) If this keeps me healthy longer, why not? Nothing strenuous is all that bad if you’re only doing it for ten minutes (or less) at a time.
There is no question that maintaining some level of fitness helps our odds of living longer and healthier. Even if you don’t get to the ideal of how much to exert yourself every day, consider that the small efforts throughout your waking hours do make a difference. For many people it is very encouraging to see improvement when you get in the habit of climbing the stairs, or parking farther from your destination. Being less breathless or not straining is a thing you can feel and note with satisfaction. And the satisfaction with those small changes keeps you going. You have to choose something easy to start with if you are not exercising at all. And if you are an older person, with health issues, it’s necessary to check with your doctor to be sure what you plan to try is safe for you. Discuss it and get the okay first. If you are doing the stairs, hold onto the handrail and be alert to avoid losing your balance. If you are a younger person and not worried about medical conditions as much as you are about motivating yourself, think of exercise snacks. Small bites at a time, adding up to a better, longer-lived you.