Physical Health

Make Small Changes, Reap Big Results (Part II)

May 17, 2012

In Part I of this article, we introduced new research showing that small amounts of exercise, even 15 minutes a day or accumulating an hour of jogging over an entire week brought incredible results in health benefits and longevity.  We continue in Part II with how to implement a program that can take advantage of this.

 

Practical Solutions

The two key words to always keep in mind are: prioritize and organize. Use your time efficiently and you will be surprised at what you can accomplish before the end of the day. The most important thing to remember is that something is much better than nothing. With this in mind, let’s see how, given your busy schedule, you can still include the proper type of exercise in your day.

Wake up just five or ten minutes earlier in the morning. After you have a glass of water, do a two-minute simple calisthenics routine. Then, spend another four to five minutes on some easy stretching.

Whether you are going to shul, taking the kids to school or on the way to work, walk one or two bus stops away and get off one or two bus stops before your destination. If you drive, park far enough away so that you get an eight-to-ten-minute walk to work. Use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator as much as possible. At your lunch break, take fifteen minutes to eat, then go outside with friends and walk for fifteen to twenty minutes. You’ll feel refreshed when you come back and find you can work more efficiently.

Later in your day, take a five-minute break. After drinking a glass of water, do fifteen push-ups against the wall of your office. Then try squatting and standing up again, eight to twelve times. While sitting at your desk, you can do seated crunches, as follows: sit up tall, with one hand behind your head and the other one holding on to the edge of your chair’s seat. Pull your abdominal muscles inward. Slowly curl down and forward just a few inches. As you do so, pull your abs in even tighter. Hold a moment and then slowly uncurl to a very tall position. This move strengthens your abdominal muscles. Try ten or so.

During the course of the day, you can work in some of these basic desk stretches.

  • Stretch your shoulders and neck by gently rolling your shoulders clockwise and counter-clockwise ten times in each direction.
  • Stretch your lower back by draping forward over your lap.
  • Stretch the back of your leg: extend your leg, lean over in your chair, and reach your arms toward your feet. You can increase the effectiveness of this stretch by lifting your toe up in the air. Repeat on both sides.

On the way home, make sure you get in another five to ten minutes of brisk walking. Between all those staircases and walking, you’ve probably accumulated about thirty minutes of aerobic exercise for the day. As you can see, every little bit helps. And beyond these tips, it’s productive to approach every day and every situation as a workout waiting to happen. If you have the time, or can try hard to make the time, there are certainly better and more beneficial ways to work out. But on the days that you just can’t, make every effort to fit it in wherever you can.

The Benefits

If you are generally sedentary, you will find this lifestyle change difficult and perhaps even somewhat uncomfortable at the beginning. You will, however, begin to feel better overall very quickly. Let’s say you decide that at the beginning, you will walk up three flights of stairs per day in your office or apartment building. You have just prevented a 3 to 4 pound (1.5 kilograms) weight gain for the coming year – or created a 3 to 4 pound loss! If five days a week, you begin parking your car five minutes away from your home, five minutes away from work and add a ten-minute brisk walk during lunch, you will lose about a pound per month. That is twelve pounds per year. Not only will you lose weight, but your cardiovascular health will also improve greatly.

According to research done by the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine), even moderate-intensity exercise – that is, activity that raises your pulse rate to only the very bottom or even slightly under the aerobic range – has enormous benefits for your heart and lungs. According to one study, moderate-intensity exercise and activity can be as effective as vigorous exercise. In other words, the desk-bound executive who regularly jogs may not be much better off than a person who does moderate intensity exercise throughout the day.

There have been several studies confirming the great benefits of increased activity. At the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, a study followed 13,000 men and women over an eight-year period of time. The mortality rate from all causes was significantly lower in those with moderate levels of fitness than the low-level fitness group. A University of Michigan study yielded almost identical results from a study that followed 12,000 middle-aged men. The active group engaged in gardening, yard work, home repairs, dancing, swimming and home exercise programs. A third study completed at Stanford University indicated that people who engaged in moderate-level activity for eight weeks at thirty minutes per day, whether consecutive or in three ten-minute sessions, experienced significant cardiovascular improvement. 

In Conclusion

A few years ago, I had a client whose goal was to improve his overall health and shed a few pounds. He had a very busy schedule and, therefore, committing to my full program was not doable. Since he generally ate healthfully, his diet needed only some slight adjustments. We included a longer route to the bus and had he began using the stairs in his building instead of the elevator whenever possible. In three months’ time, he dropped 8.8 pounds (4 kilo) – without a formal exercise program.  He found increased energy for his daily tasks and both his cholesterol and blood pressure showed marked improvement.

Remember that Utopian world we mentioned a few weeks back? The ideal model is for people to set aside time on a daily basis for high-intensity exercise. But we need to be practical, and when taking into account people’s lifestyles, this isn’t always realistic. As we can clearly see, it’s the small changes you can make in your overall lifestyle habits that can make the biggest difference in your health.

 

Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. certified personal trainer and a lifestyle fitness coach with over 16 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It!  He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at alan@loseit.co.il.