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One Small Change

4 New Ways to Fit Physical Activity into Your Day

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I don’t know how true this story is but, at the risk of furthering an urban myth, I’ll pass it along because I think it’s illustrative nonetheless. Supposedly, the great British decathlete Daley Thompson, who won two Olympic gold medals and set numerous world records in the 1980s, was pitted against a four year old. Thompson had to do everything the kid did during the course of a normal day and, as it turned out, he struggled to keep up. His specialized training was no match for the kid’s naturally active lifestyle.

“It gets you thinking,” says Alwyn Cosgrove, C.S.C.S., the owner of Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California, who told me this story. “The activities of daily living just might be the ultimate workout.”

Indeed, all this month I’ve been exploring what it means to really be fit. If you’ve been following along (catch up on Kita's previous posts in One Small Change), then you know it’s not as simple as exercising 30 to 60 minutes per day at a moderate-to-vigorous pace like the experts say. Even if you’re doing that, your total exercise time constitutes only about 5 percent of your week. If you’re spending the rest of that time working behind a desk and sleeping, then there’s a very good chance that you, my well-muscled friend, are sedentary (and should be wary of agreeing to babysit toddlers).

So the challenge is this: How, given the realities of our jobs and our culture, do we go about taking exercise out of the corner of life we’ve backed it into and become more active in general? As it turns out there are lots of strategies — big, little, and weird — for sneaking more movement and calorie combustion into our days:

1. Make your gym time count.

If the only time your heart rate jumps at the gym is when you’re flirting with the receptionist, then you better re-evaluate your workout. “To tell you the truth,” says Paul Robbins, a metabolic specialist with EXOS, “some people get more exercise walking from the parking lot up the stairs and into the gym than they do while pedaling the stationary bike for 30 minutes watching TV. You should be training with a higher intensity in order to raise your metabolism and continue burning calories for the rest of the day.” In other words, by making your exercise time more focused and productive, you’ll enable your body to continue “exercising” for as long as 12 hours afterward. This is the vaunted “afterburn effect.”

You have to be careful with this, though. As Cosgrove points out, you don’t want to push yourself so hard that you’re sore and sedentary for the remainder of the day and most of the next. “Training programs have become more intense as a result of people becoming less active,” he says, “and that’s not always a good thing. You have to find a balance between getting a worthwhile workout and still having some energy left over to be active.”

In terms of cardio or conditioning work, one way to achieve this balance is to mix high-intensity training days with medium-intensity work and lower-intensity sessions. (Read a primer on how this works.) Or as the EXOS mantra goes, work + rest = success.

2. Use gadgets to build awareness.

Even most active people don’t realize how sedentary their lives have become outside of their designated exercise time. Until I started wearing a pedometer, I would never have guessed that I was walking only 2 to 3 miles per day on average. Once you have a better idea of your out-of-gym activity level, you can start making adjustments. Besides pedometers, new devices such as the FitBit track calories burned in addition to steps taken, thus supplying an additional level of assessment and motivation.

3. Unchain yourself from your chair.

If you have a desk job, try elevating your workstation and standing during the day. Or sit on a stability ball for part of the day (this is comfortable for some, but may be uncomfortable for others, so experiment for yourself). The continual adjustments you’ll need to make to maintain balance will supply a mild workout. Another option is the Woodway Desk-Mill. This novel creation consists of a treadmill that slides out as the desk surface automatically rises. So you can walk while you’re answering email or when caught on another interminable conference call. See how it works at Woodway.com.

4. Create movement cues.

Part of the reason many people like myself are so inactive during the workday is because we get lost in our jobs and simply forget to move. So leave some reminders for yourself. For instance, put a Post-it on your dashboard that says “cold water.” It’ll remind you that the best driving position is how you react when someone pours cold water down your back — spine straight, shoulder blades back, chest open. Or get into the habit of rising from your chair whenever the phone rings and walking around the office during the ensuing conversation. Or if your favorite show is "The Simpsons," do 10 burpees every time Homer say "D'oh!" These little things may not seem like much but they add up, and research is showing that they have significant health benefits.

Get the idea? Combine these with all the cliché tips of taking the stairs instead of the escalator, never using the drive-thru and parking in the farthest lot, and you’ll soon be augmenting your regular exercise time with enough general activity to keep you fitter, leaner, healthier, and even more flexible.

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Full disclosure: EXOS has a corporate partnership with Woodway.

About The Author

Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.

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Tags: Gear, Home, Work, Physioball, Energy, Health