In this age of all things electronic and entertainment, the sedentary lifestyle has become the norm for many folks.
Perhaps you have a job where you sit at a desk all day and movement is limited. Or maybe you’re working from home and you’re not moving around as much as you should.
It’s easy to fall into this routine.
But it can also be easy to make a few small, incremental changes that help pull you out of the sedentary slump.
And doctors say it can deliver an almost immediate payoff for your health, as small changes lead to big results.
Something as simple as going from a sitting desk to a standing desk, or taking short breaks throughout the day for a walk, can positively affect your health, Brian Wilder, DO, a physician with Spectrum Health family medicine, said.
“Low-impact, entry-level fitness can have a significant impact on not only your weight or health conditions, but also your mood and energy levels,” Dr. Wilder said.
The adage still holds true: A body in motion stays in motion, and a body at rest stays at rest.
There are plenty of great strategies for someone trying to become more active.
A good start: Take meetings from your phone and wear headphones while walking, Dr. Wilder said. You don’t even need a standing desk to reap the benefits from this additional movement.
Prolonged sitting can contribute to a variety of health problems.
“You won’t burn as many calories as standing, and being sedentary and not moving doesn’t allow all your joints to stay mobilized and lubricated,” Dr. Wilder said. “When you’re up moving around, you’ll have less aches and pains as your muscles aren’t stuck in one position.”
Stretches that focus on the lower back can help, because lower back muscles can get tight if you sit for a long period. This can lead to poor posture, pain and discomfort, he said.
Other relatively easy activities to consider: Ride a bike or engage in simple tasks around the house—work in the yard, clean the house, garden.
“Try low-impact movement throughout the day, where you will get something done that will bring you satisfaction or joy,” Dr. Wilder said.
And you don’t have to jump right into 30 or 45 minutes of activity, either. Even 10 minutes or more each day can be helpful.
“Making these small changes really is a win-win,” Dr. Wilder said. “When you stop sitting and start moving, you not only get the benefits from moving on your joints but also from the exercise, too.”
If you’re trying to work this into your daily routine, Dr. Wilder recommends trying three 10-minute walks throughout the day.
Then, build up from there.
“Start a routine and then grow it,” he said. “Before you know it, you’ll be up to 30 minutes a day, which is a great starting point for someone who has been sedentary.”
If you stick with it, you may see level improvements in blood sugar, insulin, blood pressure and cholesterol. Your resting heart rate may improve, too.
Even your liver function can benefit from light exercise.
“When the body is making fat, it’s storing it up for a rainy day,” Dr. Wilder said. “And when your body gets full of fat, it can store it in your liver, which will cause it not to function as properly.
“When you walk more and are utilizing these energy stores, you’ll pull fat from the liver, getting it to function in a healthy way.”
Strength-based exercises are great for the body, especially as you get older.
Core strength is crucial. Think about all the things you use your hands for—opening jars and packages, opening doors.
“Light weight exercises—even simply holding small weights—can be great in improving grip strength and muscle tone,” Dr. Wilder said.
But he also stressed not to jump right into this if you’ve been sedentary for some time. This would be something to add in once you get into a routine of being more active and changing those sedentary habits.
If you need a little extra motivation, make a point to spend time in nature.
Walking outdoors can deliver therapeutic benefits, including lower blood pressure and lower stress levels.
Dr. Wilder, core faculty for the family medicine residency program at Spectrum Health, is also board-certified in lifestyle medicine. He’s been teaching residents at Spectrum Health about the many benefits of lifestyle changes, which is at the core of lifestyle medicine.
The main pillars of this include diet, exercise, sleep, stress reduction, connecting with others, and avoidance of risky behavior such as alcohol consumption and smoking.
Managing all these components can empower you to take control of your lifestyle. It can also help you manage health conditions and illness.
The way you eat, the way you move—it all has a bearing on your health.
“This is a journey, and a marathon is completed one step at a time,” Dr. Wilder said. “Take the first step and build upon that. This can make a significant impact once you get the ball rolling.”