Think about it. We sit nearly all day long. At home, at school and at the office, unless you’re employed as, say, a fire fighter or flamenco dancer. Even now you’re probably sitting down, reading this on your iPad or whatever latest device allows you read, chat, study, write, listen to music or watch a video while firmly planted in your chair, hour after hour. Now more than ever before, we are a sedentary society.
The good news is you only need to change your daily routine by twenty minutes. That’s only 1.39% of your day. And I know that because I looked it up while sitting here at my computer. Anyway, that twenty minutes can mean the difference between feeling good and feeling like you’ve been hit by a Mack truck.
Don’t just take my word for it. According to New York Times Phys Ed columnist Gretchen Reynolds, it’s a health risk to sit around so much. In her book The First 20 Minutes published earlier this year, when you sit for long periods of time, you accumulate fat in your bloodstream, your liver, your heart and your brain. This not only leads to weight gain and fatigue, but to poor health in general.
But my sticking to an exercise program is about as likely as following through on the rest of my New Year’s resolutions, like organizing my closet and learning how to play the harmonica. (Which I can’t find, by the way. It’s probably in my closet.) I’ll do anything to avoid exercising, including cleaning the grout in my shower. Unfortunately housework doesn’t get my pulse rate up or relieve my stiff neck. By early afternoon, fatigue sets in and on really bad days, a migraine headache.
Luckily, I don’t need a gym membership (which I will never use) or a trainer (which my ego and bank account won’t allow). Gretchen Reynolds recommends walking. As little as fifteen minutes a day reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes. She says there’s no need to stretch beforehand; in fact, recent studies have shown it can actually be harmful to stretch before a workout. But because I have extra-achy joints and a seriously crunchy neck, I need to take a couple of minutes before my walk to loosen my neck, back and leg muscles. Just a gentle limbering up. Then I’m good to go.
Typically, I’ll do a twenty-minute trek (about a mile) around the block with my dog. He’s a peppy little poodle, so it’s a pretty fast pace. If the weather isn’t cooperating, a great alternative is the treadmill. Mine’s an inexpensive model, parked squarely in front of an old TV-VCR combo next to a stack of videos. I’m not embarrassed to admit it—I watch old shows that don’t tax my brain, like “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” It’s distracting enough to forget that I’m exercising. And one episode is just about the right amount of time for the warm-up and twenty minutes on the treadmill. If a TV screen isn’t your thing, try music. Latin jazz has a great beat for fast walking!
This simple twenty-minute routine helps me do the following:
- Breathe more deeply
- Sleep better
- Feel less fatigued
- Improve my posture
- Increase my blood flow
- Warm up on a cold day
- Boost my appetite (so I usually walk just before lunch)
- Drink more water (and a teaspoon of mint chlorophyll in my water bottle helps my digestion)
- Feel less guilty over the bowl of Rocky Road ice cream I had the night before
My advice is to walk at the same time every day. Also, force yourself to do it even if you feel sick or tired, and do it daily, no “days off.” Do it even if you have company. Friends and family soon realize its importance in your life, and they may even take your lead and start their own exercise regimen.
After the first week of your new walking routine, if you have not skipped a day, reward yourself with an extra cup of coffee or a long hot bath—something you wouldn’t normally give yourself. After a month, make it a lunch at a new restaurant, a shopping trip or a movie. You’ll look forward to these little treats. And you’ll soon learn to enjoy exercising. But the biggest reward is how much better you’ll feel. So good, in fact, you might feel like organizing your closet.