It’s time to blow the cobwebs away. We won’t beat around the bush: sitting down for hours on end increases your risk of developing high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, and high cholesterol. If left uncontrolled, these issues can evolve into more serious conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, which can both be fatal.
Spending too much time sitting down can also contribute to weight gain. Obesity (as well as being overweight) is linked to inactivity, as a lack of movement and exercise results in excess calories being stored as body fat.
So, it’s time to peel your eyes away from your favourite Netflix series and get active. Baby steps are the key here. You can’t go from watching movie marathons to running marathons straight away. You need to build yourself up gradually so your body can adjust to keeping fit.
To help you do this, here are 5 simple exercises you can incorporate into your weekly routine.
It’s something we learn to do at about 12 months old, but are far less willing to do when we get older. If the bold size 18 subheading didn’t already give it away, then we, of course, are talking about walking.
Did you know that walking can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol? These are the very areas of your health sitting all day throw out of whack, so it’s a good idea to counteract the negative effects sitting has on them by walking.
Walking is a good form of exercise for people who aren’t used to exercising but want something accessible to start off with. Just 10 minutes of brisk walking a day can contribute to your recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise (a guideline set in place by the NHS).
As the days progress and you become more comfortable with walking, you can try walking for longer distances or increasing your walking speed. Both of these can help to boost the health benefits you get from walking, as they are able to improve your cardiovascular health.
It’s important to remember to wear the right footwear when walking. You wouldn’t go for a hike in the same shoes you’d wear for a job interview. The same is true when going for a walk - even if it’s only for 10 minutes. Wearing the right shoes will give you the comfort you need to make walking an enjoyable experience and prevent blisters from getting in the way of your progress.
Another key thing to remember is to walk briskly. A brisk walk will burn more calories (which is great if you’re walking for weight loss) and have a more positive impact on your cardiovascular health than a leisurely stroll. If it helps, you can create a playlist of high-energy songs to keep you motivated during your power walking sessions. Just remember to take water with you so you stay hydrated (and so your throat doesn’t get too dry when you’re belting your favourite tunes).
Swimming is another great form of exercise for people who don’t exercise regularly because it’s easier on the joints than other forms of exercise. Some people find that walking or jogging places too much pressure on their joints and makes these activities uncomfortable, especially if they’re overweight or have osteoarthritis.
Swimming, on the other hand, places minimal pressure on your joints because your body is suspended in water. This makes it a good alternative to more high-impact activities (e.g. running, playing tennis, etc.) and serves as a beginner-friendly introduction into the world of exercise.
On top of this, swimming burns calories and helps you lose weight. Being overweight or obese is associated with many severe health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer. Being a healthy weight - or losing weight if you are overweight - can improve your quality of life and prevent these conditions from rearing their ugly heads.
You don’t need to be Michael Phelps to start swimming for weight loss or your general health. You can start off simply by swimming slowly at your own pace. If you struggle to swim, don’t be afraid to use equipment to help you float (e.g. a pool noodle or a float belt). The goal is to get moving, so it doesn’t matter if you need a little help to do so at first.
Once you get the knack for it you can begin to swim a bit faster or increase the number of laps you do around the pool. If you feel brave enough, you can even start diving underwater and swimming without buoyancy aids. Try to get creative and challenge yourself. The more fun you have with it, the less it’ll feel like exercise.
Cycling on a stationary bike
If swimming or walking don’t quite float your boat, you may enjoy cycling on a stationary bike instead. Getting your heart pumping on an indoor exercise bike is a brilliant way to increase your cardiovascular health, lose weight, and counteract the effects of sitting all day.
Nowadays, there are plenty of options available when it comes to getting fit with an indoor exercise bike. If you like to train alone you could use a stationary bike in your local gym or at home. If you prefer to sweat it out with other people then there are a host of spinning classes available all over the UK.
Cycling, like swimming, is a low-impact form of exercise - meaning that it’s more accessible for people who don’t exercise often. It also is capable of bestowing a range of health benefits, including increased muscle strength and flexibility, improved joint mobility, and decreased stress levels.
Dancing and exercise are often regarded as two separate activities in most people’s minds. But dancing is, in fact, an effective form of exercise that helps to burn calories, keep you trim, and even improve your mental health.
A recent study found that line dancing improved depression in elderly people who had become more isolated and depressed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. After dancing three days a week for 3 months, they reported better satisfaction in life, a greater interest in activities, and a good mood most of the time.
But the health benefits of dancing don’t stop there. Another study revealed moderate-intensity dancing was associated with a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease mortality (even more so than walking). In more simple language, this means that dancing can reduce your chance of dying from cardiovascular disease.
This is important because sitting all day, conversely, increases your chance of dying of cardiovascular disease. So, if you spend most of your days sitting in front of a screen, it might be worth getting up for a little boogie. Plus, next time you’re in a club and hear the song “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life”, you’ll be able to relate to the lyrics more than ever.
If you’ve never exercised before and the previous exercises mentioned in this list are too strenuous, you can try chair exercises (also called sitting down exercises). These can be done in your office or at home and are an easy way to improve your mobility.
There are a variety of chair exercises you can do (see examples here) to build some very basic strength. Three exercises the NHS recommend are:
- Sit-to-stand: start by sitting on the chair with your feet hip-width apart. Stand up slowly using your legs and then sit back down in a controlled manner.
- Mini-squats: stand behind the chair and place your hands on the back for support. Slowly squat down keeping your knees and feet forward, then come back up.
- Calf raises: stand behind the chair with your hands on the back for support. Slowly raise yourself up onto your tiptoes and then lower down with control.
The NHS recommends performing 5 repetitions of each exercise and increasing the number of repetitions you do as you get stronger over time. Wear comfortable clothing so that you can move freely and make sure to use a sturdy chair that won’t slip if you put pressure on it.
The bottom line
Sitting down all day increases your chances of putting on weight and developing cardiovascular disease (e.g. heart disease, stroke, etc.). So, if you tend to sit for long periods at a time it’s a good idea to balance out all that sitting with some exercise.
The NHS recommends getting 150 minutes of exercise in a week to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and live a healthier lifestyle. Exercises that can help you to achieve this goal include walking, swimming, dancing, cycling on a stationary bike, or simply doing chair-based exercises. Regardless of how you go about keeping fit, remember to have fun with it and build up over time. This will make the journey much more enjoyable and allow you to make more sustainable progress.
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