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Healthy Living

Want to Stay Healthy? Don't (Just) Exercise

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 04/26/2011
Last Updated: 11/12/2018

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When my boys were little, I used to bug them about exercising, especially on the weekends. I was like a broken record. They would practically be chained to their chairs, playing with their computers. No matter that hours would pass and they hadn't eaten. They were captive. I'm happy to say that now that they're grown and on their own, I don't have to nag them anymore. They are both proud card-carrying gym members.

So instead of bugging them, when I started writing this blog, I suspect I began to bug all my readers about exercising. If you haven't noticed, I write about it a lot.

OK, I'll make you a deal. This time will be different. I won't tell you to exercise. I won't tell you that it improves your overall health or that it can lower your blood pressure, improve your metabolism, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

I'll tell you something much simpler that has these same exact health benefits. (But you're not exactly off the hook. I'm not telling you to give up exercise completely.)

Experts are now saying that even if you exercise regularly, it won't make up for those hours you spend sitting. I wrote about this previously (Why You Might Not Want to Sit) (Why You Can't Be a Couch Potato Even if You Work Out), but that was almost a full year ago. I think it bears repeating. I know that after I heard the report on NPR this morning, I clipped on my pedometer (something I used to do but have gotten away from) (An Easy Way to Move More) and made sure I put it to work to log at least 10,000 steps today.

One Australian study found that taking mini-breaks throughout the day resulted in lowering blood sugar levels as well as triglycerides and cholesterol. And waist sizes decreased, too. The NPR broadcast quotes epidemiologist Steven Blair, a professor of public health at the University of South Carolina, as saying, "Let's say you do 30 minutes of walking five days a week (as recommended by federal health officials), and let's say you sleep for eight hours. Well, that still leaves 15.5 hours in the day."

So you see, most of us are sitting much more than we probably realize. And when we sit, our muscles don't contract much; when major muscles aren't moving, neither is your metabolism (at least, not very much). It slows down dramatically. Aside from that, sitting leads to other health problems, among them an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Now that you know this, what do you do? Some suggestions:

  • Schedule a 10-minute mini-break (or several) into your day. Get up from your desk and walk around, stretch, bend, jump—just move.
  • When looking for a place to park, pull your car into the farthest corner of the parking lot.
  • Skip the elevator; take the stairs instead.
  • If you work in an office with others, instead of calling a coworker on the phone or e-mailing her, get up from your desk for some in-person communication.
  • Swap your desk chair for a stability ball or use a taller desk where you can work standing up.
  • During a meeting or while watching television, stand up regularly and walk in place, pace or just plain fidget.

Tune in later this week, when I talk to the fit-over-50 gals from one of my favorite places on earth, the Golden Door Spa (http://healthywomen.org/content/blog-entry/how-one-week-taught-me-important-real-life-lessons). Not only will they share how they stay so fit and healthy, but they are giving away a fabulous gift, too.
Speaking of gifts, I'll also be announcing the lucky winner of Kathy Smith's DVD (Fitness Icon Kathy Smith Dishes on Weight, Workouts and Turning 60), Staying Strong.


I have just begun to use our exercise ball at my desk, mostly for when I am checking email, surfing the web. I use my chair still, but maybe I will become more and more used to the ball and can make the switchover complete. Either way, I can feel the benefit of movement with just this tiny switch!

I'm thinking about getting one of those mini bikes you can stick under your desk and pedal while you work. I just am not sure I get it to work without banging my knees on my keyboard tray!

I like that idea - I've seen it in catalogs. Why not, as long as you have the proper clearance so you don't end up with black and blue knees!

Lots of good tips here. My husband has always told me I spend too much time in front of the computer, just sitting. Interesting idea of walking in place! I pace sometimes. That must work, too. Who would have thought pacing could be good for you!

I'm a big fan of pacing. If I sit too long, I get stiff and restless.

I know I sit way too much when I'm on deadline. This is good advice. I worked with a project manager who used to be an RN, and she reconfigured her workspace so that she could stand up and work. She was used to being on her feet all the time.

Smart lady! She should go into business doing this for other "sitters." It might become a new trend, who knows?

This broke my heart. Sitting is one of my favorite exercises.

Sorry to be the fun police, Ruth. As always, everything in moderation, as the saying goes...

good thing I can't sit still anyway...not for very long. so now it seems I've been healthier..thanks!

An emphatic YES! to this advice. I've been reading a lot about how bad sitting is for your health. As a person who sits (and who is hoping one day to have a walking desk) for my job, I will be scheduling in those breaks you suggest!

I'm leaving a comment, then getting up for my mini-break. Thanks for the reminder. Even though I workout several times a week, I've been known to sit for hours without food, water, or stretching my legs because I get so engrossed in a project. Good for productivity, not so good for health.

Yes, I agree. It's great to get engrossed in a project - but then, you forget to get up. I think we all need a built-in alarm to go off every 1/2 hour or so. But then, there's always the compliance issue...if you're engrossed and don't want to lose your focus, you may just choose to ignore it. That's why the idea of a standing desk is kind of attractive...

Hmm, like the idea of using my exercise ball at my desk. Might have to do that. Plus, I have the attention span of a gnat anymore and am forever wandering off, so that must help!

I'm going to blow up my exercise ball and try it, too. I'm also a wanderer, so I get in a lot of steps that way. But alas, not nearly enough...

The exercise ball idea just makes me think of Kyle MacLachlan's character on Portlandia (has anyone else seen it? hilarious!) - I can't balance, but at least I work standing up when I'm cooking for 4-5 hours a day.

No, I haven't seen it, but I have a feeling he must fall off the ball a lot? Cooking 4-5 hours a day - wow! You must have a lot of great recipes to share.

Ugh. I sit WAY too much. I do get up and take lots of breaks, and will even do a bit of gardening in between writing projects, but even so, it's too much butt-in-seat time.

I like that - gardening as a break from sitting. A nice way to get some fresh air and vitamin D, too~

My only problem with mini-breaks is that I work from home and the kitchen happens to be right near my improvised office so when I do take a break I tend to head for a snack. If only veggies were my favorite thing to snack on!!

I see how that can be a problem. Next time, head in the opposite direction!

My new idea is to take a 10-minute break and lift those weights gathering dust in m magazine basket. Let's see if I actually do it.

Ok, Sarah, checking in on you some days later. Have the weights been taken out of the basket and dusted off? Do tell.

Sometimes it's scary how long I sit at this computer without standing up and moving around. I need a noisy alarm or something to remind myself. Or maybe just a 16-year-old who wants me to come look at whatever YouTube video he's watching. Yeah, that works, too.

Give a hand to those 16-year olds. Sometimes they know things we don't know!

I am so glad I read your advice.. I havent stopped moving today! It is so easy to forget to move if it is a rainy day like today but you motivated me to move my butt!

So glad, Sherry. It's like (almost having a real-life nagger in your life, isn't it :) ?

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