If you spend most of your time sitting behind a desk or on your sofa watching TV, you may not be getting enough physical activity for optimal health, but there are some simple ways to get yourself moving towards a more active, healthy lifestyle.
Current research suggests that a sedentary lifestyle can have a very negative impact on your health. In fact, this serious situation is often described as “sitting disease” and is commonly associated with an increased risk of suffering:
- Heart disease
Increasing your activity levels will massively reduce your risk of suffering diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle. But, can you fit it into your schedule, and make it fun?
Exercise Versus Physical Activity
Firstly, it’s important to differentiate between exercise and physical activity. Exercise tends to be structured and pursued for a very specific reason e.g. weight loss or muscle building. In contrast, physical activity is less structured and simply involves moving more and sitting less.
For exercise to be beneficial, it needs to be sufficiently challenging. This means elevating your heart and breathing rates and for muscular health, working until your muscles feel fatigued and you are out of breath. Physical activity, however, doesn’t have to be as challenging to be both rewarding and beneficial. Your heart and breathing rates WILL increase, but not as noticeably, and as for your muscles, they should not really suffer any real signs of fatigue.
To repeat: physical activity is NOT exercise, which is why it’s often given the acronym NEPA, short for Non-Exercise Physical Activity.
In fact, physical activity should purposely be kept at a relatively low level of intensity. Why? Because ultimately it should be a healthy addition to your life, not a replacement for a regular workout routine.
The Danger of Too Much Exercise
There is such a thing as too much exercise and insufficient rest between workouts can lead to something commonly referred to as overtraining syndrome, usually characterized by loss of exercise motivation, low levels of energy, sore joints, and a suppressed immune system, leading to frequent illnesses and even a disrupted menstrual cycle in women. Needless to say, as exercise is supposed to be a healthy pursuit, overtraining is best avoided!
In contrast, NEPA is much less likely to contribute to overtraining and can even promote recovery between workouts by preventing muscle stiffness and encouraging better blood circulation — things that sitting at your desk simply cannot do!
Get More NEPA!
If you spend a lot of time sitting, you are risking your health, fitness and posture. Try to simply stand up more. Stand up whenever you take a phone call. Walk to your colleague’s, instead of calling or emailing them. Get up and change the TV channel by hand, instead of using the remote. Look for any opportunity to get up and stand up!
Walking is arguably THE most accessible form of NEPA. You don’t need any special equipment and can do it almost anywhere and anytime. Look for ways to get more walking into you daily routine, for example:
- Walk to and/or from work or school
- Meet up and walk with friends, rather than chat on the phone
- Walk with your children
- Walk after dinner, instead of watching TV
- Walk during your lunch break
- Take the stairs, instead of the elevator
- Park on the far side of car parks and walk the extra distance
- Get off the bus/train a little earlier and walk the rest of the way
- Make family walks in the park part of your weekend routine
- Ban car use for journeys less than one mile/1.6 kilometres
Many of us are over-reliant on mechanized transport, but driving and being a passenger means you sit more and expend no meaningful amounts of physical energy — a double whammy of health risks.
Seek Out NEPA Opportunities
There are dozens of daily opportunities to clock up NEPA minutes during the day:
- Wash your car by hand
- Cycle for transport or pleasure
- Carry your shopping in a basket, instead of using a grocery cart
- Play sports or active games with your kids
- Use an interactive video game console, such as X-Box Kinect, rather than controller-based games
- Do chores around the home, such as cleaning and repairs
- Do some gardening or tidy your yard
- Rearrange your furniture
- Do some decorating
- Volunteer to help out a less able neighbor, friend or relative, and do some of their physically demanding tasks such as sweeping up leaves or carrying their shopping.
How much NEPA?
Because NEPA should not be overly tiring and can actually enhance your energy levels and speed up recovery, there is no real upper limit to how much you can do in a day. It all comes down to your lifestyle and how much you can realistically fit in. However, as most of us work best when we have specific targets to focus on, aim to accumulate around 60 minutes of NEPA per day. This can be comprised of any type of physical activity; just choose things you enjoy.
Increasing your daily activity levels might sound a little daunting and time consuming, but really, it doesn’t have to be. Walking can often get you where you want faster than driving because of heavy traffic, and playing with your kids is just plain fun! Other NEPA activities, such as car washing and gardening, may even save you money, as you won’t have to pay someone else to do them.
60-minutes of NEPA per day equals 365 hours of additional physical activity a year. Assuming you burn a very conservative 300 calories per hour, that means you’ll burn 109, 500 calories more per year than if you were sedentary. That’s over 26lb/12kg of fat!
NEPA could very well be the difference between being overweight and unhealthy or reaching your ideal healthy weight, and you won’t have to do a single minute of extra exercise. How many NEPA minutes have you done today?References