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One Small Change

How to Stay Active All Day

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When I started wearing a pedometer back on October 1 to gauge how active I was, I honestly thought I would blow that little gadget right off my hip. In fact, I told the clerk at the sporting-goods store that she better give me two just to be safe. Since I work out for an hour or more every day, I was justifiably smug. And then a strange (and scary) thing happened.

When I looked at my time outside the gym, which was (not incidentally) 95 percent of my week, I discovered that I was barely moving. Because I make my living sitting at a desk, some days I was taking less than 3,000 steps. That’s basically Nana-level. Nothing I was doing in the gym could counteract that degree of inactivity, one fitness expert even told me.

This revelation caused me to re-evaluate my entire exercise program and, in fact, my very definition of fit. Somehow I had gone through most of my life believing that “fit” meant being able to comfortably finish a 10K, bike a century, or delight a child (or, okay, a young lady) by saying, “Go ahead, feel my biceps.” But those were other people’s fitness ideals. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that like a tailored suit you really should have a custom fit.

My friend Alwyn Cosgrove, who is the owner of Results Fitness and a refreshingly realistic personality, helped me understand this better by relating the story of his recovery from Stage 4 cancer. “My fitness goals are a little different now than they were before,” he says. “I’m done with the types of workouts where you wake up the next day and you’re so sore you actually feel worse as a result. When you’re a teenager or in your 20s, you may like that feeling, but that’s not where it’s at for me anymore.”

Don’t be mistaken. This isn’t about a couple of aging guys making excuses or compromising. Rather, at the risk of committing the sin of smugness again, it’s about becoming more open-minded and maybe even a little smarter about this thing called exercise.

If, God willing, I reach into my 70s or beyond, I don’t want to be running marathons, riding centuries, or trying to bench press my bodyweight. Rather, I want to be wrestling with my grandkids and not requiring any paramedics to get up. I want to be walking freely through Home Depot without sending small children scurrying from the hunchback. I want to have energy, vibrancy and the confidence that comes from still controlling my body rather than it dictating to me. It’s that simple—really. To do all these things at that age would make me feel like Mr. Universe.

But the first step toward realizing that, I realize now, is shifting my perception of fitness from “exercising” to “being active.” And in case you think that’s stepping down or getting soft, it’s not. You don’t get truly fit from what you do in the gym or in the hour or so you reserve for exercise daily. Rather you get truly fit by transporting the active mindset you have there into the rest of life.

This little pedometer on my hip is a constant reminder to get out from behind my desk and periodically walk or stretch. Science is finding that even little movements like these add up and have direct fitness and health benefits. For instance, I used to go for hours with my sole physical activity being my fingers tapping on the keyboard. And by day’s end I was so tight in my shoulders and hamstrings that it actually took me a few steps to straighten up. And I was equally tense inside my head. The pedometer made it clear what was causing this. It’s given me an awareness of movement that I lacked before.

Although I haven’t abandoned my dedicated exercise time (and never will), I no longer consider my workout finished when I’m done showering. The world is our gym, and life is the workout. We just have to watch for the station that’s open and get creative about using it.

To my surprise, adopting a more holistic view of fitness has reduced the pressure to get to the gym daily. I know now that if I miss that time I won’t be forgoing my only movement for the day. So I feel less guilty. In fact, I’m finding I derive even more satisfaction from being active the entire day than just a fraction of it.

“When you get right down to it,” says Cosgrove, “what we’re all really training for is the game of life.” And, believe it or not, wearing a pedometer is the first step in learning how to excel at it. It’s one small change worth making.

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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: Energy, Longevity, Health, Walking, Gear