Welcome to the holiday season. Between year-end work crunches, holiday parties, shopping, cleaning, decorating....well, you know what I'm talking about....who has time to work out? It is always easy to put off exercise because we don't have enough time, but it's even easier to skip it now. I quickly lose count of how many times I hear, "Oh, I'll get back to it after the holidays." (just like, "oh, I'll get back to it eventually - when I finish treatment.")
Part of this comes from an all-or-nothing attitude about exercise - If I can't do my full workout (or whatever video or magazine article we've just seen), there's no point. Unfortunately, I think much of that attitude is encouraged by the fitness industry. There is so much attention paid to big endeavors, extreme workouts or weight loss, plus a whole pile of guilt if you're not dedicated enough or pushing yourself hard enough. I understand why a lot of people feel sure they can't measure up, so why bother?
So, as we head into the holidays, I want to say that I don't care if you don't make it to 12 spin classes this month, or walk for 7 hours per week on your treadmill, or run all your speed drills. What I care about is that you do something.
Research has shown that even small amounts of physical activity can have big health benefits. A study published in May, 2007, led by Timothy Church, demonstrated just that. Study participants who exercised at levels far below the recommended guidelines still experienced positive changes in overall fitness compared with sedentary people. And overall fitness is strongly associated with reduced risk of chronic disease and premature death.
What's that all mean? It means that even a little exercise can have a big impact. And it all adds up. All of the stairs you climb, the steps you walk to and from the car, the groceries you lift, the blocks you walk because there are no available taxis, the weeds you pull, the leaves you rake (rake, not blow with a blower!), all contributes to total physical activity. It all counts. It may not be enough for weight loss, and certainly isn't going to train you for your first half marathon, but it will contribute to your health.
So, maybe you don't have an hour to spend at the gym today. I bet you do have 10 minutes somewhere in your day that you can walk...Or you could lift the milk jug 10 times before putting it in the refrigerator...Or you could take a short break every 15-20 minutes at work and get up out of the chair!
That last one is actually really important. We've become significantly more sedentary. A 2008 study by Mathews, Chen, and Freedson found that Americans spend an average of 8 hours sitting every day. Eight hours! Other studies have linked sitting with all kinds of health problems - greater risk of high blood pressure, inflammation, blood sugar and cholesterol problems. (Aug. 2013, Gennuso, Gangnon, Matthews)
So getting up out of the chair more often can really impact your health. If you can, set up a standing work station, or sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair. But if you're in an office where that's not really possible, just get up several times per hour. I'm not telling you to slack off on your work. Just go get a drink of water (which will make you have to got to the bathroom - another reason to get out of your chair), or stand up when you make a phone call.
As you can see, there are lots of ways to keep moving through the holidays. Just remember, what I'm talking about is long term health benefits; I'm not recommending this for weight loss or sport-specific training. I wish the fitness industry and media would focus on this a little more instead of just lamenting how no one exercises enough. But maybe that's what I'm here for. Small steps, Julie.
And small steps for you, too. A little can mean a lot.