Profound truth can spring from the most unlikely places. Take this gem—a twist on Newton’s First Law of Motion—from standup comedian Ken Davis: “A body in motion tends to stay in motion. A body at rest tends to rest in peace.”
Science backs Davis’s quip every bit as much as it does Newton’s law. It’s well-documented that a sedentary lifestyle skyrockets your risk of developing conditions—diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity, dementia and more—that diminish your quality of life and increase your risk of death.
The obvious antidote, of course, is exercise. But the quantity and intensity level of workouts required to counteract a day that consists mostly of sitting or standing—in a car or on public transit, at a desk or on a couch—is difficult for most of us to squeeze into our busy schedules. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services call for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise (that’s a half-hour, five times a week) to diminish your disease risk.
Why ‘Working Out’ Might Not Cut It
Even when we do manage to meet our exercise quotas, it might not do as much for us as we hope. Longevity research, primarily by demographers who coined the phrase Blue Zones for geographic regions whose citizens tend to live a long time, has shown that the people groups who tend to live the longest often don’t exercise at all—at least by our modern definition of the word. Instead, their days consist of nearly constant, low-level activity: walking to places they need to go, physical labor around the house or yard or for their vocations, and mild activity for leisure or pleasure.
In comparison, several studies show that the lifespans of elite and Olympic athletes, who have devoted their lives to working out, are on average only a few years longer than those of the general population.
Here’s the rub: Our entire culture is built with the goal of helping us move less rather than more. Labor-saving gadgets fill our homes and workplaces. Human-powered transportation is rare. Movement-based leisure activities are the exception rather than the rule.
So how do we buck this trend without reverting to the Dark Ages? There are no easy answers.
To be clear, giving up workouts as we know them is not the answer. Unless you have a hard-labor job, it’s nearly impossible in our sedentary society to incorporate enough movement in your day to render “exercise” unnecessary.
The solution lies in finding ways to weave more movement into your everyday routine—to make it a lifestyle. Yes, that means leaving enough time to take the stairs rather than the elevator. Or trying some of these ideas:
- Get up and move around for at least five minutes of every hour. (Set an alarm on your phone to remind you.)
- Instead of asking your kid or spouse to bring you something from the next room, go get it yourself.
- Sell your leaf- and snow-blowers, and do the job the old-fashioned way.
- Recruit a friend to join you for daily morning or lunch-hour walks.
- Take a walk while waiting for your kid’s sports event to start.
- Invest in a DeskCycle Ellipse ($219), an elliptical trainer you can use while you work (you’ll need 24 inches of under-desk clearance) or watch TV.
How I Know It Works
I’m a living testimony to what movement can do. Before I had kids, I ran or strength-trained every day, but when I wasn’t working out, I was sitting at my desk or commuting in my car. Post-kiddos, I shifted my job to my home office—cutting out the commute and interspersing a lot more movement in my day (if nothing else, getting up to let my dog in and out a zillion times).
The result? I inadvertently dropped 10 pounds, despite cutting my workout sessions to three per week. Now that’s the power of everyday movement.