How much should you be exercising each day to be “healthy”? Is exercising an hour a day plenty? And how do we define this exercise? Does walking 10 minutes to your favorite lunch spot count towards the final tally?
It seems like every month there is a new article that comes out proclaiming a new ideal amount of exercise that we should all be getting. If there is a standard, then I suppose you should reference the recommendations set forth by the United States Department of Health and Human Services – that most healthy adults should aim for “…at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity.” And regarding strength training, adults should aim for at least twice a week, of which there is no recommended duration(1).
But if you read Motus, you’re probably reasonably fit to begin with, right? Am I preaching to the choir? Well, allow me to throw a wrench into everything…
I recently read an article from the FMS folks that raised some thought provoking questions on how our environments affect our movement. Conseqently, it raised the question that if your environment plays a large role, then are corrective exercises going to be enough to negate the ill effects of sitting and living a largely sedentary lifestyle? You can read the full article here, but the gist of it was that healthy individuals who exercise regularly, may still be at risk for long term health issues, despite making time for exercise(2).
Like any other coach worth his/her salt, I experiment a lot on my own body. Sometimes it may be strength based – high volume work versus high intensity, for instance – and other times I may experiment more in terms of lifestyle habits and how my level of fitness reacts to these changes.
Allow me to give you an example of the latter.
In January of 2014, I left my cubicle job to pursue other projects, Motus being one of them. As you may guess, many changes soon followed, but one that is relevant to this blog post, is that I was no longer obligated to be in one place for upwards of 9 hours a day.
But here’s what’s interesting: Since I’ve been on the loose and working for myself, I still spend many hours a day in front of a computer, but my body moves much, much more. It’s for the simple reason that when I feel like getting up and moving around, I can. If I want to take a quick break and foam roll my quads, I can. Or, if I fancy a quick walk to get some sun and feel the breeze on my face, I can. And when I am working I can try all sorts of different postures. Sometimes, I put the laptop down on the carpet and lie down and type propped up on my elbows. These are all examples of things that would go against the norm in a traditional corporate environment.
Now, my intention here is not to brag about my own personal level of freedom, but I’m trying to pique your interest and give you a little insight into how you can move more during your day. More movement and more high quality movement will help to fight off postural compensations and in my own experience, you’ll be happier. Because after all, that’s what humans do, we move.
But for you to positively change your environment in a way that will allow you to move more, you need to stop thinking about fitness in terms of time.
“I don’t have time for fitness”
We hear this a lot. Maybe your gym buddy told you this the other week or maybe you’ve even said it to yourself. There are an endless list of reasons why we don’t have time for fitness, but why is this even a saying in the first place?
The answer: Because we like to categorize things.
We organize our lives into little blocks of activity. Sure, we may multitask here and there, but in general, our lives are broken up into chunks. We have time at work, time at home, and time for fitness, to name just a few.
And when we constantly organize our lives in these discrete chunks, it becomes ever more easier to think of reasons why now may not be a good time to move.
For instance, let’s say it’s a beautiful sunny day outside and your next meeting was just canceled. Sounds like a great time for a walk, right? But then maybe you start thinking that if you do, you’ll get sweaty and then perhaps you’ll be stinky for the afternoon and everyone will notice. Or maybe you don’t like walking for a long time in your dress shoes. And just to stick a fork in it, you tell yourself, “no, I’ll just go to the gym tonight because that’s when I do my fitness.”
See how easy it becomes to say “I don’t have time for fitness”?
On the flip side, what if you did go for that walk? Well, for starters, you would have benefited from the cardiovascular benefit of walking. From a postural standpoint, your hip flexors would have been well worked and you would have made a positive step towards fighting off any hypertonicity that may have been settling in there. And that sunshine would have given you a little vitamin D and boosted your mood.
All good things as far as I know.
It’s time for a change in perception
We like to think of fitness as exercise and exercise alone. We look at it in terms of sweat and electrolytes and reps and sets.
But let’s take a different approach, just for discussion’s sake. Let’s break up this concept of fitness into 2 different categories (because us humans like to categorize things!).
The first, we’ll call Strength.
For you, it may mean squatting 225 lbs or spending an hour on the treadmill at race pace. Regardless, this is your “traditional fitness.” It’s when you’re in the gym doing your sets and reps and working out just like usual.
Let’s designate the second idea, Alignment.
And so what type of fitness might you do to benefit your alignment? Well, I’d say that it could be things like corrective exercises or even passive techniques, like rolfing or acupuncture. And remember our example above about taking a quick walk? I would call that Alignment fitness. It may not be what most of us would call traditional fitness, but it is still counting towards your day’s overall movement.
And let’s not forget, what do you think your body is more accustomed to – walking or sitting in a man-made “ergonomic” chair?
When you start to think of fitness as being more than just your time in the gym, you start to realize that you don’t need to make time for fitness because fitness can be woven into the fabric of your day.
- Take the stairs (too easy? Take two stairs at a time and get your lunges in)
- Stand at your next meeting
- Walk around the building twice a day
- Hang from the door frame to decompress your spine
- Spend a couple minutes (or however long is comfortable) every so often in a full squat to help your lower back relax
- Toss a tennis ball to your cubicle neighbor 10 times – with your non-dominant hand
- Do some alternating shoulders rolls – in reverse, because you spend enough time pulling your shoulders forward
- Do a sun salutation sequence once a day, or more!
How much movement is enough for you?
For about 7 years, I would sit maybe 11 hours a day. This included my time in the office, my time sitting at home, and driving time to and fro. And about four days a week I’d go to the gym. I’d squat and do shoulder exercises and things to open up my spine, but I was never getting the results I wanted. I still had a relatively rounded back posture and anterior pelvic tilt. And so for me, sitting 11 hours a day and lifting weights for about 1 hour a day didn’t do a thing for me from a postural perspective.
So the FMS article really resonated with me when I read the quote “…5 minutes of corrective exercises do little to counter 8 hours hunched over a computer.” Lee Burton goes on to say that “prescribing correctives isn’t enough to reverse the effects of sitting.”
Similarly, in a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers found that men who sat for 23 hours a week had a 64 percent greater chance of dying from heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours a week or less(3).
And the research subjects included men who exercised regularly.
But think about that for a moment – 11 hours a week of sitting or less! That’s not much at all.
So how can we have any chance at even getting to this level of movement?
Answer: By redefining fitness. That is, not allocating time for fitness, but instead moving throughout your day. Because as the study above has shown, doing something positive, like exercising in the traditional manner, may not be enough to keep you healthy when it is competing against hours and hours of sitting.
Here’s the takeaway: In my opinion, it’s difficult to say that there is a magic number of minutes we need to exercise each day/week/month to be “healthy.” It’s so subjective that I think we all need to define our own movement requirements. And it’s probably more than you think it is.
But we can start to make small changes. We can take the stairs at work and make an effort to walk to the coffee shop versus driving.
I’ve written before on what I see as the polarization of fitness – that with all the exotic movement options out there, the fit are getting fitter and the less fit are feeling like their goals are only outpacing them. But when we start to view this whole idea called fitness in terms of movement, then it becomes clear that being fit is a lot more attainable; a lot more fun!
What’s your experience? Let me know in the comments below.
By Ryan Wagner
(1) Mayo Clinic: How much should the average adult exercise each day?
(2) FunctionalMovement.com, Dr. Lee Burton: Addition by subtraction
(3) Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise: Sedentary behaviors increase risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in menExercising an hour a day may not be enough by Ryan Wagner