Healthy Heart

Adding Physical Activity to Your Lifestyle

Being physically active is very important for good health. Physical activity helps to control weight, improve cardiovascular fitness, lower blood pressure, and prevent or better control diabetes. The American Heart Association recommends that adults be physically active at least 30 minutes of most days of the week. But in reality, few Americans achieve that goal. To do this you need to find an exercise you like - walking, running, swimming, tennis, or another activity or sport - and you need to commit to it.  When I see patients in the Spring they say “The warm weather is coming, and I’ll be out more and will lose weight.” But in New England the warm weather doesn’t last, and then there are days it is too hot, too humid, it’s raining, the bugs are out….

So what to do? There are those who can maintain an exercise program throughout the year. They set the time aside, and they keep the commitment. But it is also very important to understand that there is physical activity outside of intentional exercise, and it is very important. The world we live in now removes even the most minimal of normal activity- the doors open for us! – but you can put it back in.

 Below is my guide to being physically active without exercise. Some of these tips you have heard before (“take the stairs”), some may surprise you (“be inefficient”), and some may be very difficult (“Don’t use remote controls”), but all will burn calories, and they can add up to hundreds of calories a day.

Burning calories Without Exercise

  • Take the stairs whenever possible.  The malls often have very nice stairways, but everyone takes the escalator. Why?
  • Park further away – walk those extra few yards.
  • Get a pedometer and use it! These inexpensive gadgets let you know how many steps you are taking each day. The goal is 10,000, the equivalent of 3-4 miles of walking. If you find you are barely reaching 3000 steps a day, you are spending too much time sitting and will need very little food. Set yourself a goal you can reach – add 2000 steps each day. If 5000 steps a day becomes easy, go up another 1000 steps.
  • Buy a heavy laptop; carry it everywhere. Amazing the number of folks I see walking or running with weights in their hands, who earlier in the day were boasting about their ultra-lightweight laptops. Doesn’t make sense, unless you have back or shoulder problems.
  • Walk at airports, don’t take the moving walkways.
  • Throw away every remote control. Get up off of that sofa. If your TV has no controls other than the remote, well, put the remote by the television.
  • Never go to a drive-up anything – get out of the car! Service inside that bank or donut shop will be faster anyway.
  • If there is a choice, take the door you have to push open, not the one that opens for you.
  • Hold doors for others.
  • Stand, don’t sit. This turns out to be very important. A remarkable study looked at 20 self-described “couch potatoes” – ten of whom were lean and ten obese. Their body posture and movements were recorded every half-second for 10 days. The only difference between the two groups was that the obese individuals sat an average of two hours longer per day than the lean individuals. Standing burns calories!
  • Move, don’t just stand there.
  • Never ask anyone to get anything for you.
  • Be grateful when others (your kids) ask you to get things for them – it is an opportunity to burn a few more calories.
  • Be as inefficient as possible. Make several trips where one would do. Put the printer further away. Walk into your co-workers office to chat – don’t send a text message or email!
  • Disable the automatic garage door opener (another hard one).
  • Don’t buy cars with automatic doors unless you really need them. Unfortunately sometimes the car doesn’t come without them, the assumption being that we all want to use as little of our muscle-power as possible.
  • Get a big dog, and walk him a lot.
  • For those of you ready for the advanced course – get rid of all of the powered gadgets. Rake the grass, trim the hedges, shovel the snow, push the lawn mower. At the least, don’t get a riding mower!

Of course, all of the above assumes you do not have joint problems of other difficulties that limit your mobility.

To give you an example of how far things can go to limit even the most modest of activity, at one of our cardiology seminars last year the instructor showed an electrocardiogram on the screen in the front of the room and asked for comments. Immediately several red dots appeared on the screen and responses came from the audience.  The colleague to my left, knowing that I am interested in such behavior, turned to me and said “Another five calories shot to hell!” What he meant was that in past years the person answering the question would have gotten up from his seat, walked to the screen, and pointed out the area of interest – now everyone has a laser pointer and they can stay where they are!

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