Get Up, Be Active

Since my last entry I have started studying at Teachers College of Columbia University to get a Masters in Applied Physiology of Exercise. The course work thus far has been incredible, and I’m learning so much about the state of our country (and the world) when it comes to being physically active. It has taken a long time for the science to catch up with the changes in our daily habits and current culture of work and leisure. The most haunting facts that have been discussed recently regard our sedentary behavior.

We sit, and we sit a lot. We know that we should exercise, and many of us do! But what the current studies are finding is that even if you get in your recommended 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous intensity exercise per week, but spend the rest of your time sedentary, you will still be at increased risk for cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.

So much of today’s work consists of sitting in front of computer screens, sitting for meetings, sitting for phone conversations. When we get home, we sit in front of our personal computer, or TV. Today I am going to list a few tips that has helpful for me to try to increase my daily physical activity and minimize inactivity.

1) Wear an Accelerometer or Pedometer. Something that measures your daily activity or steps will give you a way to track your activity from day-to-day. Seeing how active you were one day over another might be enough motivation to get you moving, or set goals for yourself to increase your activity.

2) Get up periodically during the day. Some people like to set alarms on their computers, or make themselves get up frequently to refill a glass of water. Whatever you do at your desk, every half hour, or hour make sure you stand up for a minute, take a brief walk. It just might help you to concentrate and be more focused when you get back to work.

3) Change your work habits. If you are so inclined to change your work space, there are multiple options. Some people prefer standing desks, or desks that can alter their height from sitting to standing. At the Teachers College lab, they even have a treadmill desk! Getting a balance ball chair is also a great alternative, you might still be sitting, but your core and balance muscles will still be at work. Also think about walking meetings. Who says the only way to solve a problem is to sit and talk about it? Go for a walk and see what ideas come up.

4) Take the stairs. Walking is excellent for your health, and if you are healthy enough to take the stairs do it. Why wait for the elevator if you’re just going up a few flights?

5) Schedule your workouts. Whether you go in the morning, in the middle of the day, or at night, make sure it’s on your calendar and that you actually go. It’s too easy to press snooze in the morning, go for a long lunch or fall into the couch after work. Do what ever you need to do to make sure you still get in some exercise.

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Keeping Fit on Vacation

Vacations and traveling can be refreshing and energizing but they can also leave us feeling a bit heavier upon return home. My dad used to tell me, “there are no calories on Holidays” and like so many others I take advantage of times with friends and family or on vacation as times to splurge and not think about eating “right” and just enjoying a good meal and a dessert. And there is nothing wrong with that! The last thing I would recommend is to go on a trip and not experience the food! But vacationing is not an excuse to be less active either….

On most of my vacations I do a lot of walking without thinking about it. Walking is great, and can mean the difference of 1.3 more years of healthy life in terms of cardiovascular disease if you are walking just 30 minutes a day. (according to a 2005 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine)

Living in New York City, I can easily walk 30 minutes a day when I include my commute to work and running errands in my neighborhood. If you live in a more suburban community getting those minutes in might have to be a bit more proactive when you drive everywhere you need to go. But exploring new cities, it should be easy to get in that burst of activity each day- but that might not be enough if you are also eating slightly more- or more richly than normal.

Unless you are at an all amenities included hotel, chances are you are without a gym. Here is when knowing how to get a good work out without relying on machines is most beneficial. Pilates and Yoga are both great to utilize in these types of situations. And getting creative with squats, lounges, and planks can give you a full body workout with limited space and equipment.

I found this article on a ten minute plank work out by Tina Haupert on Health Magazine’s Website. I tried it over the weekend and my abs and arms were definitely sore the next day. It’s incredibly intense and not suitable for beginners to plank workouts but it is telling just how little you need to work up a sweat. A modified version of this workout would be to add in moments in downward dog and child’s pose to rest.

Extra time stretching can also be a great addition to vacation time workouts. Stretching can be very relaxing and much needed after long periods of time sitting (travelling). Long trips on a plane or a car can be terrible for circulation. Try to stand up for a minute every hour or so, and making sure you rotate your ankles, stretch the calves and legs and doing a few straight leg press ups onto your toes can increase blood flow and prevent cramps.

On Walking

There’s no excuse. If you can walk, you can exercise. Whether you are trying to lose weight or just want to be more active, the first step is to simply start moving. You’ve probably heard it before but the littlest changes in your day can make a huge impact on how you feel. Taking the stairs whenever possible, getting up from the desk as often as you can, taking a walk after dinner, parking the car further away than usual are some simple ways to get a few extra steps into the day.

Walking is the most basic and accessible form of exercise. A study published in 2008 in the January issue of Archives of Internal Medicine reported that those who had a higher level of physical activity actually had cells that appeared younger than their sedentary counter parts. This suggests that regular exercise can help prevent age related illness. What more motivation do you need?

Besides the age slowing benefits, walking is good for blood circulation and keeping your joints healthy. What is that old saying, a rolling stone gathers no moss, or a moving gear never gets rusty? Our joints were made for moving, so keep them healthy and strong with regular exercise.

By watching New Yorkers all day through the window on East 11th Street, I’ve come to realize that everyone has their own gait. Most people don’t think about the way that they walk. Why should they? It’s a skill learned pre-cognition, before our first memory even. I’ve talked briefly about being aware of your posture, and the same goes for when you are on the move. Keeping your shoulders over your hips is just as important as keeping your head in line with your spine. Jutting your head forward as you are rushing to the train won’t get you there faster, it will only give you a neck ache. If you are walking as a form of exercise, focus on the back of the leg (the glutes, hamstrings and the calves) to propel you forward and always remember to wear supportive shoes!

Now that the weather is getting nicer I suggest you put your favorite songs on your ipod, grab your sneakers, and head outside. Even if just for fifteen minutes. You have to start somewhere, right?