The Benefits of Daily Activities for your Good Health

By Scott Hayford, MS

Most people know how important it is to exercise regularly, to stay active or even just to get up and move around. However, people may feel discouraged if they fail to go to the gym three times a week or participate in regular, "official" exercise such as walking, jogging, swimming or cycling. What they may not realize is that many times each day they are likely engaging in some highly beneficial, active lifestyle habits that contribute to their overall good health. Normal daily activities such as housework, gardening, taking care of children, running errands or even shopping can count as valuable activity toward your good health. Recent research suggests that simply being more active on a daily basis can significantly improve your overall health. Put another way, being less inactive can increase your chances for living a long and healthy life.

The field of "Inactivity Studies" is different than the research you most often see reported showing how subjects may have lowered their cholesterol, lost weight, reduced their stress levels or risk of heart disease after participating in an exercise program. What we don't usually hear about are studies reporting how harmful a sedentary, inactive lifestyle can be, ones where subjects do no activity while being monitored and measured. Here are some examples highlighted in a recent New York Times article titled "Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?"1:

  • An American Cancer Society study of 123,000 American subjects conducted from 1992 through 2006 found that men who sat for six hours or more each day had an overall death rate that was 20% higher than those men who sat for less than three hours each day. For women in the study the death rate rose to 40% higher for the group sitting for six hours per day compared to those sitting three hours or less. Wow, knowing this makes you want to stand up and walk around.
  • An Australian study of 9,000 subjects published in the journal Circulation found that for each additional hour of watching television per day, the risk of dying rose by 11 percent.
  • Dr. James Levine, a researcher at Mayo Clinic in Rochester MN focusing on human health and obesity, found that subjects benefit from thousands of minor movements each day. When it comes to daily movements, the more, the better. When subjects were fed an additional 1,000 daily calories beyond what they needed to maintain their current weight, some gained significant weight while others gained little or no weight. Amazingly, the study found that those who did not gain weight were simply moving around more in their daily activities, as formal exercise was prohibited in the study. Subjects who gained the most weight sat around an average of two additional hours a day.

It is clear that inactivity and excessive sitting- what Dr. Levine calls a "chair based lifestyle"-can be harmful, so what are some good ideas to get moving?

Everyday Ideas

Here are some ways to be more active and burn calories that you can feel good about and can implement immediately into your daily life:

  • Stay busy doing your daily activities such as cooking, laundry, cleaning or gardening
  • Stand while talking on the phone at home or at work
  • Wear a pedometer, it can be very motivating. Approximately 2,000 steps equals one mile, target 10,000 steps a day to equal 5 miles
  • Take walk breaks at work, even short ones are beneficial
  • Walk 5-15 minutes before eating lunch at work
  • Take the stairs
  • Do something while watching TV like folding laundry
  • Park further away from the entrance you are walking to
  • Take a walk, in your neighborhood, local park or on the beach
  • Walk the dog, they are great exercise partners
  • Strength train using dumbbells, sport cords or weight machines
  • Use a Wii-Fit program, or play your favorite Wii game
  • Follow along to an aerobics, Zumba or yoga DVD

Vacation Ideas

Vacation season is upon us, so try to build activities into your days that get you moving in between meals, rest and relaxation:

  • Go hiking, adding elevation burns even more calories
  • Play tennis, badminton, shuffleboard or golf
  • Rent a kayak or canoe; hire a guide to take you to great locations safely
  • Go sightseeing, walk around your vacation destination
  • Go bird watching
  • Go for a bike ride, just don't forget your helmet
  • Play volleyball or Frisbee on the beach
  • Snorkel, swim, surf or body surf in the ocean
  • Swim, tread water or walk in the shallow end of a pool
  • Take an aqua aerobics, yoga, tai-chi or pilates class
  • Seek lodging with exercise rooms equipped with weight equipment or bring your sport cords along, they pack easily and weigh nothing at all
  • Go dancing!

1-"Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?" by James Vlahos., April 14, 2011.