In short, all movement counts. For people with jampacked schedules, and those with chronic conditions, that's good news.
For the first time in a decade, the national Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee has released updated recommendations, and some of the key takeaways may surprise you. Even for those of us who love sweating it out at the gym, it can be a challenge to get in as many workouts per week as we’d like. There are obligations at work and at home and, well, sometimes that long walk to the gym in the rain is decidedly unappealing.
Luckily, the new guidelines are far kinder than the previous version, especially for people managing hectic lifestyles. And the suggested exercises and movements are so easy and realistic that you could start doing them tomorrow.
“One of the most exciting things about the revisions to the guidelines is that it supports a much broader definition of what it means to be active,” says Cedric X. Bryant, president and chief science officer at ACE Fitness. In short, all movement counts, and adding any type of physical activity to your routine will provide a fairly significant health benefit.
As a first step, Bryant suggests making a list of things that you typically do in a sedentary posture and finding a way to make them more active; during phone calls, for example, you might put on a headset and walk around your house or apartment. Moving around during conversations as opposed to sitting on the couch is a simple lifestyle change, and you’ll probably find that it makes you more active in a fairly effortless way.
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If an endless to-do list and other obligations are a roadblock to getting to the gym, you might try incorporating activity into your errands. Depending on where you live, Bryant suggests biking or walking rather than driving. If that’s not possible, find the parking spot farthest from your destination. “Most of us will circle the parking lot looking for the closest spot to the door,” Bryant says. “Take the opposite mentality and try to park as far away as possible so you can at least incorporate more steps into what’s typically a less active endeavor.”
And in general, walk as much as possible. Walk to work if you can. Instead of the escalator or elevator, take the stairs. Traveling? If your flight is delayed or you’re early, take a walk around the airport rather than sitting at the gate until it’s time to board (you’ll have plenty of time to be sedentary in those cramped plane seats!).
All these actions add up, especially when you take the approach of making a series of small but meaningful changes. When you’re watching a TV show, stand up during the commercials. Move your arms and legs. “‘Always try to move more and sit less’ is the mantra you want to try to adopt,” Bryant says.
He also recommends avoiding technological shortcuts as much as possible when it comes to caring for your home — for example, rake the leaves instead of using a leaf blower. “In a lot of respects, this is kind of turning the clock back,” Bryant says. “Back before we had so many labor-saving devices, movement was a way of life for us.”
When the first physical-activity guidelines were released in 2008, Bryant says the intent was to update them every five years like dietary guidelines. But the push to finally update them this year came because experts felt strongly that the messaging needed to be updated to honor and recognize the importance of any type of physical movement, beyond what Bryant refers to as “the prescriptive type” — something that was conspicuously absent from the 2008 edition.
“When you think about the growing rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and various forms of heart disease … a lot of those chronic conditions can be positively impacted by any form of consistent physical movement,” Bryant says, noting that he thinks this was the biggest driver to update the guidelines.
By far the biggest change in this edition is the recognition of “sit less” offering many health benefits. Bryant says it’s still true that meeting the guidelines of 75 minutes of vigorous or 150 minutes of moderate activity per week is “the ideal number.” But it’s not the only way to reap the benefits of physical activity. This is especially important for people with jampacked schedules and those with chronic illnesses that make many types of exercise difficult and painful.
“Just to move for any period of time at any intensity is going to provide you some benefit,” he says.