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One Small Change

Are You More Active Than Grandma?

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This is amazing, sobering, embarrassing. I’ve finished triathlons, ridden centuries, run marathons and am even a newly certified yoga instructor, but according to this little device I’ve been wearing on my hip for the past week, I am, gulp, sedentary.

To determine how active I am outside of the 60 to 90 minutes of exercise I generally get daily, I’ve been wearing a pedometer. That’s the small change I’m making this month. And since my job as a writer is executed from a soft chair in front of a home computer, my daily step totals have been woeful: 3750, 2430, 3100. On some mornings I log only 300 to 400 steps, largely commuting to and from the coffeepot. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, taking less than 5,000 steps per day classifies you as sedentary. (That’s sedentary as in ground sloth or your in-laws on Thanksgiving Day at 7 o’clock.)

In case you’re thinking I’m needlessly concerned—after all, I am exercising daily—keep in mind that the 7 to 10 total hours of time I’m working out during the week amounts to just 5 percent of the total hours in that week. So 95 percent of the time I am essentially doing nothing or very little. I am sedentary.

“I don’t care what you’re doing during the 5 percent of the time you’re working out,” says Alwyn Cosgrove, a renowned fitness expert and the owner of Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California, “when you look at the big picture that’s a very small investment.”

Thanks, Alwyn.

In a moment of despair, I head to the local sporting goods store, buy a bag-full of pedometers and start attaching them to all sorts of things. But it turns out that my wife, who’s a registered nurse, logs nearly 8,000 steps in a single 8-hour shift. The 10-year-old boy across the street totals a stultifying 32,000 steps in just two days, leading me to ask his mom how much sugar she’s giving him. My 75-year-old mother, who I’ve been warring with lately to exercise more, somehow accumulates 5,000 daily steps shuffling around her duplex—a finding that triggers a barrage of “I told you so’s” equal to anything Dick Cheney will mount if we ever suffer another terrorist attack. Finally, with no solace apparently to be found, I pin one to the collar of my loyal Jack Russell, Guinness. Surely she won’t embarrass me. And true to her breed, she dislodges the pedometer during a leap for a tennis ball and crushes it beneath her paw. Good dog. 

The crucial question, of course, is whether what I achieve during my official exercise time is offset by my lack of movement the rest of the day. Even though I’m healthy and lean, would I be better off somehow if I stopped exiling my workouts to a separate corner of life and instead incorporated them more fully in it? Is it more beneficial to exercise or just be more active?

“These are tough questions, and there are no easy answers,” says Cosgrove. “As our lives become increasingly more sedentary, we have to define fitness for ourselves. The best definition I ever heard was that fitness is the ability to meet the demands of your life with a small buffer left over for emergencies. If you fulfill that definition, then you’re fit regardless of how fast you can run or how much you can bench press.

“Training has become increasingly more intense as people have gotten less active in their daily lives and society has become almost completely automated,” Cosgrove continues. “And some of the workouts people are doing now are leaving them so exhausted and sore that they can’t do anything the rest of the day. Those workouts are making them more sedentary, which doesn’t make any sense. To be truly fit, we need to get some balance back in our lives and maybe that just means moving more.”

But how do you make that transition if, like me, you’re an exercise junkie—if the hour or so that you’ve carved out from your day for movement is satisfying but suddenly perhaps not as effective?

I’ll discuss the specifics of doing that next blog. But for now, I need to get up and take a walk.

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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: Health, Walking, Weight Loss, Gear