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Exercise without Trying

Sneaking physical activity into everyday life

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults – including people living with diabetes – commit to a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. That’s the amount suggested for improving heart health, muscle, and bone strength, and for maintaining your weight. But if you’re not a runner, cyclist, gym-goer, or you simply don’t have a moment to spare for physical pursuits, there may still be a way to reach that goal. According to James Levine, MD, PhD, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, you may be able to live well by increasing your everyday activity.

“For most people, the gym isn’t the perfect solution for fitting in exercise,” says Levine. “A better solution may be window-shopping with friends in a mall, playing a game of tag with your kids, or wandering around a farmers’ market. Those are the things that are accessible to most people, and although the exercise is gentle, it can add up.”

Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Old Dominion University who lives with type 1 diabetes, says this type of activity is especially important for those living with diabetes. “Light exercise typically has a glucose-lowering effect. That’s why walking more and doing easy activities like gardening and housework can be important.”

Even changes in everyday patterns can break up sedentary habits enough to make a difference. The trick, says Colberg-Ochs, “is to take some of your sitting time – when your body is burning few calories and your muscles are not aiding the absorption of glucose into your bloodstream – and transfer it to active time.”

To get started, consider ways to change the time you spend sitting to a more active alternative. For example, if you have a regular coffee date with a friend, order to-go cups next time and catch up while walking around the neighborhood. Or, if you work in an office, set a timer on your computer reminding you to walk around every twenty to forty minutes.

“Having a way to measure your activity as you work can help you stick to your good intentions,” says Colberg-Ochs. “So, consider investing in a pedometer or an accelerometer to track your activity levels.” Wear it for a few days to establish a baseline; then start setting goals, such as taking 200 more steps each day.

At the same time, pay attention to changes in your mood and energy level. “I can tell a big difference between days when I’m up and moving around and days when I’m forced to stay sitting,” Colberg-Ochs says. “Simple activity has a tremendous impact on my body.”

Here are twenty simple ways to add more activity to your day:

1. Instead of just sitting in front of the television, dust or iron while watching

2. Play a game of tag or catch with your kids

3. Wash the dishes by hand

4. Stand up whenever you’re speaking on the phone

5. Schedule meetings in a conference room at the other end of your office

6. Pick up prescriptions in person

7. Walk or bike when doing errands that are close to home

8. Stand while riding public transportation

9. Make a yard-work list and take care of one item a day

10. Suggest having work brainstorming sessions while walking

11. Walk up and down flights of stairs whenever possible and convenient

12. Buy fresh veggies that require chopping

13. Do some mini-squats while brushing your teeth

14. Avoid shortcuts when walking – take the scenic route!

15. Buy houseplants – caring for them may add physical activity to your routine

16. Hang your clothes on a line to dry

17. Give surfaces a nightly cleaning

18. Stand while styling your hair

19. Host a cookout or dinner party

20. Try some simple indoor exercises

Jessica Cassity is a health reporter for SELF, Fitness, and Shape magazines, and the author of Better Each Day: 365 Expert Tips for a Healthier, Happier You. She is a Portland-based pilates and yoga teacher and writes The Happy and Healthy Blog. Cassity is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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