Some Movement Is Better Than None – Just Do It

May 5, 2015 in Exercise, Fitness, Health by Joyce Bunderson

Last week I wrote about Individual Practicality, Balance and Sustainability; I addressed the question, “Why bother?” (to exercise, that is, if it doesn’t lead to much weight loss by itself). This past week new research has been published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology; and it’s a remarkable report on recent research on the effects of just sitting around. The researchers found that, if people just get up and walk for two minutes every hour they could reverse the surprisingly negative health effects from prolonged sitting.

If you really want to know what sedentarism is, you can read Matthew Fox’s article, What Is Sedentarism?; it was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics back in August 2012. If like me, you think you know what sedentarism is; you may be very surprised. This article is definitely worth finding at the library. Fox makes great arguments to get us off our chairs. Fox’s research-based contention is that the prominent warning labels on cigarettes “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING:…” should with equal or greater emphasis be posted on chairs or couches. Something like “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Excessive Sitting May Increase Risk of Heart Disease, Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, and Death.” Although it is unlikely that the warning will soon appear on chairs or couches, Fox suggests that health care professionals should continue to guide patients away from their seats and toward more active lives, and with some urgency.

The most startling piece of information in Fox’s article is that the terrible effects of sedentarism are not avoided merely by meeting exercise guidelines. Wow!!! Oh my goodness! You can be doing your daily moderate to vigorous exercise, but still reap the derogatory benefits of a sedentary life. One study that Fox cites found that sitting for a long period of time actually appeared to negate the benefits of true exercise.

Some of us write; some program; some answer phones; and some watch TV. It doesn’t seem to matter if we’re working hard at our computers or watching TV; what does matter is that we’re not moving our bodies for a long period of time. You might think that a 2-minute walk each hour is insufficient to make any kind of difference to your health; I know I thought that. But I was wrong; it reduced risk of premature death by an astounding 33 percent. That is an amazing finding! The researchers were fascinated to see the results associated with light activity; but are not giving up on the recommendation for 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week; moderate exercise strengthens the heart, muscles and bones, and provides benefits that light activities can’t. But, if this is a good place to start for you (thinking here of last week’s article) then get off the chair/sofa. It’s obvious, some movement is Way better than none.

I felt that this study really spoke to the issue that I was addressing last week. Can you sustain this new minimum for movement? I’d say a 2-minute break per hour of sitting is probably not too big a commitment. Is it practical? Again, probably yes. It may not get you the 30 - 45 minutes a day you’d really ought to do; but if you’re not doing anything could this be the place to start until you’re able to find the time and motivation in your present life to add moderate to vigorous activity. The current recommendation is to get at least 2.5 hours (that’s about 21 minutes a day). But if that’s more that you believe you can sustain, does the goal of the cited study (2 minutes/hour) make it any easier for you to make a start? Apparently 80 percent of Americans don’t meet the 2.5 hour/week goal.

One reason that starting with the 2 minutes/hour goal is a great place to start is that it is something that we should keep doing even after we’re committed to moderate to vigorous exercise. There are now timers on our computers, phones, etc. that can be set to alert us once per hour to get up and move about for a couple of minutes.

Anna Johnsson a researcher for a study in Sweden that followed over 29,000 Swedish women aged between 25 and 64; inactive women were 2.4 times more likely to contract breast or endometrial cancer as compared with those who were active at their jobs and in their leisure time. Certainly there are many good reasons to move. Do commit to something that can be sustained.

One additional benefit of beginning with walking is that walking has the lowest dropout rate of all the physical activities, according to the American Heart Association. The AHA lists the following benefits of walking and moderate physical activity for 30 minutes a day:

  • Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease
  • Improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels
  • Improve blood lipid profile
  • Maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesity
  • Enhance mental well being
  • Reduce the risk of osteoporosis
  • Reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer
  • Reduce the risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes

This perspective brings to my mind the old-fashioned housewife model of my childhood. I remember grandmothers who were plugging along long after their retired, sedentary husbands had gone on. Should I think of my three-times-a-day meal prep in new light? Should I get up for a minute or two each hour and putz around in the garden? Break up tasks – partially to just get up? Whenever the phone rings, should I get up and walk around?

The bottom line as related to moving our bodies is that some movement is much better than nothing. And I believe that Nike has it right: Just Do It! Move every hour and if you’re not doing moderate to vigorous activity now, begin to discover how you can fit it into your life.