Over the course of the pandemic, many people who previously commuted to office spaces and job sites joined the at-home workforce. Unfortunately, that additional time at home easily equates to more sedentary time.
Whether you work from home or not, if your normal daily schedule has you sitting still for hours at a time, it’s important to make an effort to move throughout your day to avoid the negative health implications of being sedentary, such as an increased risk for cancer. In fact, breaking up long bouts of sitting still with just a little exercise can boost your overall health and fitness.What if, over the course of an eight-hour day, you got up and moved for three minutes every hour?
That’s 24 minutes of exercise daily. Add another 10 minutes of walking or stair climbing before or after work, and you’d be at 34 minutes daily, or 170 minutes per five-day workweek. That’s well over the weekly threshold of 150 minutes, or two-and-a-half hours, recommended by the World Health Organization — without ever setting foot in a gym.
Read on for a practical plan to integrate three-minute movement intervals into an otherwise sedentary eight-hour workday.
1. Get up. Sit down. Repeat
It’s important to get up from your chair at least once an hour. The simplest way to start moving is to make the act of getting up out of your chair and sitting back down into an exercise.
Coaches and trainers call this a box squat. From standing in front of your chair, slowly sit down, making contact with the seat without putting your full weight on it. Then drive through your feet, legs and hips to stand back up. Repeat this movement, at your own pace, for the full three minutes.
If you’re feeling up to it, after a minute or two, you can progress to body-weight squats without the chair. If your chair has wheels, be sure to lock them before performing box squats.
2. Get your heart pumping
Your body is designed to move through three planes of motion: sagittal (front to back), transverse (rotating) and frontal (side to side) so it’s important to exercise in all of them. Think about it: While sitting at a desk, you’re not doing very much side-to-side movement. Everything tends to be right in front of you. Jumping jacks are a simple yet effective side-to-side movement that gets your heart pumping. That said, I’m not recommending you hop out of your chair every hour and immediately start doing jumping jacks.
To avoid the potential for injury after prolonged sitting, first prepare your body for any type of higher-impact activity. Prep time counts toward your three minutes, so spend a minute doing some side bends, lateral lunges and jogging in place before moving into jumping jacks. If jumping is too high-impact for you, modify with alternating side steps rather than jumps.
Ever consider that the tension in your hands from all that typing might be contributing to the tension in your shoulders?
Muscles work in chains, so tension can creep up and down your body. When you’re tight or immobile in one area, other muscles have to compensate to help you move. Those muscles then become understandably overworked and tight, setting off a chain reaction of muscular compensation and chronic tension.
To perform hand exercises, focus on one hand at a time. Rest the elbow of the hand you’re exercising on your desk to stabilize it. Make a tight fist and then open your hand and spread your fingers as wide as possible. Repeat five times.
Then make a fist and slowly circle your wrist in one direction five times. Repeat in the opposite direction. Open your hand and use your opposite hand to gently press your fingers back to stretch the inside of your wrist and hand. Hold for three breaths. Repeat pressing your hand forward to stretch the back of your hand and wrist.
Then focus on your fingers. Use your opposite hand to hold and stabilize your wrist as you stick your thumb out and make three circles in one direction and then the other. Repeat this action to the best of your ability with each finger. Repeat all the exercises with your other hand.
Finish by standing up, interlacing your fingers and stretching your arms overhead with your palms facing up. Hold for a few breaths, then repeat with your hands interlaced out in front of you and then behind you.
You may find you struggle with some fingers more than others and that it’s more difficult with your nondominant hand. That’s OK. Do the best you can and you will see improvement over time.
4. Move your feet, too
The same type of muscular chain reaction from tension can happen with your feet. Spending just few minutes a day actively moving your feet and ankles can have a dramatic impact on how you feel throughout your body.
You’ll need to take your shoes off and, if possible, your socks. However, if you work in an actual office, be considerate of co-workers who might not want to see (or smell) your feet!
Cross one leg over the other, focusing on the top foot. Point your toes forward and down, like a ballerina, then flex your foot back to point your toes up, spreading them out as wide as you can. Repeat 10 times. Then slowly circle your ankle in one direction 10 times. Repeat in the opposite direction. Spend a moment focusing on your toes, seeing if you can move your big toe, little toe and other toes independently. Repeat the exercises with your other foot.
Finally, stand up and do 10 repetitions of alternating, shifting your weight evenly to the outsides of your feet, trying to lift the inside edges, then shifting your weight to the insides of your feet while attempting to lift the outside edges. Then do 10 slow, controlled calf raises, lifting your heels and pushing your weight onto the balls of your feet then lowering your heels back down. Place one hand on a chair or wall for balance.
5. Elevate your energy and mood with a dance break
It’s common for both mental and physical energy to wane in the afternoon after lunch. Instead of reaching for that extra cup of coffee or energy drink, why not take an invigorating dance break to one of your favorite beats?
Most songs average three to four minutes, so you’ll more than cover your hourly movement quota. Simply turn on a feel-good jam and let your body move to the music.
6. Practice standing meetings with movement
Now that everyone has discovered Zoom, it’s rare to have a workday that doesn’t include at least one virtual meeting. During those meetings, position your screen on a higher surface, like a kitchen island, so you can comfortably stand for your meeting. While standing, spend a few minutes softly marching in place or shifting your weight from one foot to the other to work on your balance.
If you have regular daily meetings with folks you know well, consider asking if they’d like to institute a movement break. Think of it like the seventh inning stretch at a baseball game. Meeting participants could take turns leading the stretch.
7. Build strength with good old-fashioned pushups
There’s a reason the pushup has remained a staple exercise since its origination more than a century ago. You won’t find many other singular exercises that build both upper body and core strength as well as a pushup. Although challenging, there are easy ways to modify it to ensure some variation of pushup is accessible for most anyone.
Traditional pushups are done on the floor from a plank position with your legs straight behind you and wrists under your shoulders. You bend your arms and stabilize your core to lower your body almost to the floor and then straighten your arms to push back up.
To cover three minutes, do as many pushups as you can with good form for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat through six rounds. To modify, you can put your knees on the floor or elevate your hands on a stair or chair seat. You can also do plank holds instead.
8. Take a few minutes to fix your posture and prevent pain
Although you’ve been moving every hour, at the end of the workday, it’s helpful to spend a few minutes proactively recovering from sitting in front of a screen. Focus on movements that open up and unwind that slumped-over posture we tend to take in front of our computers and when looking down at our phones. Do gentle chest and back stretches and twists.
Remember the planes of motion I mentioned earlier? Twisting takes place in the transverse plane, another plane we don’t often move in at our desks. Check out the stretches and twists in this article on movements to offset too much sitting for ideas.
Walking is one of the most accessible, total-body, fat-burning exercises available to humankind. Every day, try to take at least a 10-minute walk — ideally, outside. If weather or environment are obstacles to walking, consider this simple 11-minute at-home workout as an alternative.
With 24 minutes of movement to break up your workday, adding even a six-minute walk will get you to a nice, round 30-minute mark for daily exercise. After only a week of practicing this plan, you should definitely notice a boost in your overall health and fitness.
Dana Santas, known as the “Mobility Maker,” is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach in professional sports, and is the author of the book “Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.”
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In the world of health research, exercise is one of the few things that pretty much everyone agrees on.
Regular physical activity improves heart health, reduces your risk of cancer, keeps your bones healthy, improves mental health, and the list goes on.
But does it matter where you do your exercise? Will a gym work-out have the same health benefits as a bootcamp in a local park?
The bottom line is any exercise is better than no exercise, doctor and researcher Sandro Demaio tells ABC Life. So if exercising indoors works for you, stick with it.
“But there is some interesting evidence that running on a treadmill does not give the same mental health benefits as running outside, and it may not give you the same happy hormone boost as running outside,” Dr Demaio says.
“That makes sense because you’re not just running to improve your heart health and get the blood moving around the body and improve your fitness. You’re also outside seeing things, smelling things and getting fresh air. All those things will have an effect.”
Time in nature can boost mental health
It turns out, simply ‘being’ in a beautiful, natural environment really can benefit your mental health.
Levi Wade is a University of Newcastle PhD student studying the effects of outdoor exercise on mental health and cognition in teenagers.
“There’s a big evidence base on its effect on concentration and stress reduction. Those are the two big effects you’ll find,” Mr Wade says.
Broadly speaking, we can exert two different types of focus: hard and soft. Doing homework, checking over a spreadsheet, or crafting a pithy email all require hard focus.
Being immersed in a beautiful natural environment, on the other hand, can stimulate our soft focus. You might acknowledge the rustling of the leaves, or pay attention to the bird life.
Switching to soft focus allows your hard focus to recover: this is referred to as the restorative effect.
“If you’re walking in a forested environment or just somewhere that’s fascinating and beautiful, then a lot of the mechanism behind that effect on stress and mood is due to that environment taking your mind away from your own problems and whatever stress you are experiencing,” Mr Wade says.
“It’s just relaxing your mind because you’re not focusing on those thoughts.”
Much of the research around these benefits of outdoor exercise has been conducted on walking — specifically, walking in forested environments in Japan. It’s a popular activity there (not surprising given that 65 per cent of the country is covered in forest) and it’s termed shinrin-yoku, or “forest-bathing”.
One of the world’s leading shinrin-yoku researchers is Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki, who has been conducting research on the physiological relaxation effects of nature since the early 1990s.
“The most important thing is to make use of nature that you like,” he says.
“During our research, we found that even small elements of nature that you personally like, like plant aromas, flower arrangements, potted plants, or bonsai can have a physiological relaxation effect.”
Of course, sitting next to a potted plant for halfa won’t have the same effect on your health (physical or mental) as a 5k run. But if you’re feeling overworked, then taking some time away from the city is likely to make you feel better.
Then there’s vitamin D boost
Exercising outdoors is also a great way to get your vitamin D, which you need for healthy bones, muscles and other vital body functions.
If you have fair skin you need roughly around 5–15 minutes of sun exposure a day, but this can vary depending on the time of year, and where in Australia you are.
Running is the most elemental sport. The equipment is simple: shoes, socks, shorts, shirt. The activity is natural. We once ran after antelopes on the savannah, and we now run around playgrounds as kids. For the most part, we compete against ourselves. And because it’s so personal, and so elemental, the inevitable decline that comes with age can be wrenching. Aging reduces our performance at everything athletic, but sometimes it’s hard to make out what’s happening. The ball doesn’t seem to go quite as far; the racket or the bat doesn’t swing quite as fast…….
The first thing you need for a home workout is a really tidy house. I’m not remotely house proud, but I can’t do even half a sit-up if I can see an empty yoghurt pot under the sofa (and I always can). So while, in theory, learning how to get fit under your own steam and using your own accessories removes your single biggest impediment to becoming your best self, in reality you have to become a better self before you start. Do not skimp on a mat: I roamed around the house for days thinking if I just lit upon the best rug, I would be fine……….
With thousands of people gearing up to run the iconic Auckland Marathon this Sunday, there’ll be a lot of pasta-eating and nervous scrambling happening in Kiwi homes on Saturday night. You’ve done your training, now it’s time to relax. Trust the hard work you’ve put into this over the last few months. Here are five last minute tips before you toe the start line on Sunday morning…….
Feet tend to get a bad rap. Lots of people say they are the ugliest part of the body and avoid touching them. Others neglect them – letting toenails get ingrown, corns and calluses to develop and tinea to spread. Our feet are capable of handling hundreds of tons of force every day, and runners often give their feet a bashing during events or injure them from overuse and impact-related injuries……
If you are training to run further, always obey the 10% rule. That is: never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% and never increase your longest run by more than 10%. The vast majority of running injuries are the result of overuse. Your body is capable of astonishing adaptations, but only if they are incremental – so always give it time to adjust and recover.
Tell someone you run regularly and the chances are they will ask if you have done a marathon. Other distances are available! Training hard to improve your 10K or 5K time (or, indeed, your time for a shorter distance) is just as rewarding – and has the benefit of eating up less of your leisure time. Shorter distances also put less pressure on you – if a 5K goes wrong, you can do another one a week later. The reason the pros only do a couple of marathons a year – at most – is that recovering from a hard run of 26.2 miles can take weeks, if not months.
Use your head
Studies have shown repeatedly that the limits of our endurance are dictated by our heads as well as our bodies. For example, research by Prof Samuele Marcora found that cyclists in an endurance exercise presented with positive subliminal cues, such as action words (“go” or “energy”) or happy-face pictures, were able to exercise significantly longer than those who received sad faces or “inaction” words. You can practise this positive reinforcement yourself by finding a mantra to repeat in your head. Also, always break a long run into manageable chunks so that it seems less daunting.
Want to get faster? Alas, there is no shortcut. You need to practise by sustaining faster speeds over shorter distances – this is the principle of interval training. The simplest way to do it is by time – for example, run faster for one minute, jog for one minute, repeat 10 times.
Before you commit to a big race – particularly a marathon or even an ultramarathon – talk to your friends, family and support network. These intense periods of training can take a lot out of you, physically and in terms of time, and you need backup and to know it is not causing you – or anyone else – too much stress.
Sleep and nutrition
It may seem like something only “proper” athletes need to worry about, but sleep – or lack of it – and poor nutrition can seriously hinder your recovery. If I had a training motto, it would be: “It’s not what you can run, it’s what you can recover from.” You do not need to go overboard on protein shakes – just make sure you get enough shut-eye and eat healthily.
Most running training plans include cross-training sessions to increase aerobic fitness and strengthen muscles. Cross-training helps athletes run faster by increasing fitness, power and efficiency, and it’s also credited with reducing injuries and accelerating injury rehabilitation.
But if you want to really get your blood pumping and your muscles firing, try skipping.
According to the International Sports Conditioning Association, skipping can improve your speed, agility, power, endurance, balance and coordination, all of which are must-haves for running. Skipping works your calves, glutes and quads as well as your shoulders, chest, back and triceps from turning the rope.
Personal trainer and presenter Lauren Vickers calls running her meditation in motion.
“I try to incorporate running into most of my workouts,” she says.
“My knees have endured many years of high heels, so I can’t run as far as I used to, but I love incorporating some short cardio burners in my outdoor training one to two times a week, with sprints and shuttle runs in between sets.”
Vickers is a big fan of skipping as a cross-training exercise for runners and anyone wanting a physical challenge.
“Skipping seems like a simple exercise, but it can quickly become extremely challenging,” says Vickers.
“While skipping is gentle on the body, it’s high in intensity. You can really tire yourself out skipping, and consistent skipping will help to improve your strength, endurance and coordination.”
Never skip it
In fact, an Arizona University study found that a 10-minute daily program of skipping is as good as a 30-minute daily program of jogging for improvement of cardiovascular efficiency.
Other research has shown that skipping can not only reduce tension but also raise energy levels. Subjects taking part in a study at Illinois University were monitored while skipping during a 60-minute workout, five-days a week, over ten-weeks. The results included greater leg and knee strength, an increase in calf size, better jumping ability, and faster running speed. Subjects also became more agile and flexible, and their hearts became stronger.
Vickers loves skipping as a form of cross-training because it can be done anywhere. Vickers loves skipping as a form of cross-training because it can be done anywhere. Her own personal preference of rope is Unit Nine’s sweat plus pack.
“[It] includes a skipping rope, resistance bands, trigger ball and towel – making it the perfect on-the-go training kit to help me perform a skipping workout at home, the gym, work or at a hotel.”
Vickers says skipping helps runners get used to planting their feet directly underneath their body, and helps to reduce the length of time their feet touch the ground with each step.
“Skipping is a low-impact, effective way to build your running endurance and strengthen the muscles that you use while running without your joints bearing too much load. It also helps to build calf, ankle and foot strength,” adds Vickers.
Do it right
Like any other exercise, runners should warm-up for a skipping workout by getting the glutes and abdominal muscles firing. Give these three exercises a go:
Slide a short resistance band around your ankles and perform 20 crab walks forward and 20 backwards.
Place the resistance band above your knees, lie on your back with knees bent and perform 10 glute bridges.
Using a long resistance band, hold the band at tension with your arms shoulder width apart straight out in front of you. Brace your core and keeping the tension, move the band in halo motions clockwise first, then anti-clockwise for 10 repetitions in each direction.
Once warm, hop to these short skipping workouts:
Warm up for two minutes at an easy skipping pace, and then progress to five sets of interval skipping:
One minute easy pace
30 seconds sprint pace
One minute side to side skipping
30 seconds high knees skipping
Warm up for two minutes at an easy skipping pace, and then progress to eight rounds of tabata skipping:
20 seconds sprint pace
10 seconds rest
Rest for one minute and repeat the sequence one more time.
The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.
But the findings also indicate that, to benefit, we may need to exercise quite a bit. In theory, exercise should contribute substantially to weight loss. It burns calories. If we do not replace them, our bodies should achieve negative energy balance, use stored fat for fuel and shed pounds.
But life and our metabolisms are not predictable or fair, as multiple exercise studies involving people and animals show. In these experiments, participants lose less weight than would be expected, given the energy they expend during exercise.
The studies generally have concluded that the exercisers had compensated for the energy they had expended during exercise, either by eating more or moving less throughout the day. These compensations were often unwitting but effective.
Some researchers had begun to wonder, though, if the amount of exercise might matter. Many of the past human experiments had involved about 30 minutes a day or so of moderate exercise, which is the amount generally recommended by current guidelines to improve health.
But what if people exercised more, some researchers asked. Would they still compensate for all the calories that they burned? To find out, scientists from the University of North Dakota and other institutions decided to invite 31 overweight, sedentary men and women to a lab for measurements of their resting metabolic rate and body composition.
The volunteers also recounted in detail what they had eaten the previous day and agreed to wear a sophisticated activity tracker for a week. The scientists then randomly divided them into groups. One group began a program of walking briskly or otherwise exercising five times a week until they had burned 300 calories, which took most of them about 30 minutes. (The sessions were individualized.)
Over the course of the week, these volunteers burned 1,500 extra calories with their exercise program. The other group began working out for twice as long, burning 600 calories per session, or about 3,000 calories per week. The exercise program lasted for 12 weeks. The researchers asked their volunteers not to change their diets or lifestyles during this time and to wear the activity monitors for a few days.
After four months, everyone returned to the lab and repeated the original tests. The results must have been disconcerting for some of them. Those men and women who had burned about 1,500 calories a week with exercise turned out to have lost little if any body fat, the tests showed. Some were heavier. But most of those who had walked twice as much were thinner now. Twelve of them had shed at least 5 percent of their body fat during the study.
The researchers then used mathematical calculations, based on each person’s fat loss (if any), to determine whether and by how much they had compensated for their exercise. I think they just did not realize that they were eating more,” he says.
There probably also are complicated interconnections between exercise, appetite and people’s relationships to food that were not picked up during this study and can affect eating and weight, he says. He hopes to study those issues in future studies.
But already, the results from this experiment are encouraging, if cautionary. “It looks like you can lose weight with exercise,” Dr. Flack says. But success may require more exertion of our bodies and will than we might hope, he adds.“Thirty minutes of exercise was not enough” in this study to overcome the natural drive to replace the calories we burn during a workout.
“Sixty minutes of exercise was better,” he says. But even then, people replaced about a third of the calories they expended during exercise. “You still have to count calories and weigh portions” if you hope to use exercise to control your weight, he says.
When you’re in the middle of a grueling long-distance run and the pain and fatigue is becoming overwhelming, an obvious strategy is to try to force the subjective experience out of your mind, for example by thinking nice thoughts or focusing on the environment around you. The trouble is, as the physical struggle intensifies, the distraction strategy becomes harder and harder to pull off.
According to a new paper in Motivation and Emotion, an alternative approach that holds promise is to practice “cognitive reappraisal” – don’t ignore the sensations as such, but try to view them in a dispassionate way, as if you are a scientist studying running or a journalist reporting on the experience.
The researchers, including Grace Giles and other members of the Cognitive Science Team at the US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts, recruited 24 healthy runners (aged 18 to 33, and including 15 women) whose lifestyle included completing at least one run of over nine miles per week.
The runners visited the research lab on three occasions, each time completing a 90-minute treadmill run, keeping their heart rate in the range of 75 to 85 per cent of their maximum – a level classified as “vigorous exercise”.
The first visit, the runners were given no specific instructions to follow in terms of how to cope with the challenge. On the second and third visits they were told to either use “cognitive reappraisal” (to adopt a neutral, detached attitude toward the subjective experience, like a scientist or journalist studying it) or “distraction” (thinking about things besides the run). They also received reminders through the run to use whichever strategy was allocated for that session.
Based on psychological measures they completed before each run, every 30-minutes during, and again afterwards, the participants felt they were exerting themselves less when they followed the “cognitive reappraisal” strategy and they experienced lower levels of emotional arousal, as compared with the run in which they were given no coping instructions.
This was despite maintaining the same pace and heart-rate. In contrast, the distraction instructions appeared to make no difference to feelings of exertion or emotional arousal compared with the control run.
Giles and her team said their results are “relatively novel” and support previous findings that suggested distraction is an unreliable technique. “Instead cognitive reappraisal may benefit exercise experience relative to not using a cognitive strategy,” they concluded.
The findings come with some hefty caveats. Based on the researchers’ own manipulation check that involved asking participants to say which of several statements best described their thought processes during the runs, the participants did not actually engage in cognitive reappraisal during the cognitive reappraisal run.
That said, the researchers reconsidered the statements they’d previously identified as reflecting cognitive reappraisal and decided they weren’t really appropriate – at least not to in relation to how they’d framed cognitive reappraisal in their instructions. On further reflection, they felt the runners’ choice of descriptive statements did suggest they had practiced the strategy adequately after all. They may be right, but these post-hoc gymnastics make the study findings feel less convincing.
Another issue to bear in mind is that these were fit, experienced runners – their average rating for their exertion during the runs was “somewhat hard” and they generally found the experience enjoyable. The findings might not generalize to less fit runners or more arduous challenges.
On a positive note, however, especially if you are new to running or finding it tough, the researchers reckon that both the emotion regulation strategies they tested might have a greater benefit for runners who usually find the experience less enjoyable.