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Dr. Adrienne Youdim, MD

Sit Less, Live Longer: 5 Ways to Sneak Healthier Habits into Your Day—Commentary

4/20/2017 Adrienne Youdim, MD FACP, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Cedars Sinai Medical Center

Are you sitting down right now? If you’re like a majority of Americans, there’s a good chance you sit for significant portions of the day, both on the job and at home.

We’re all more sedentary than we once were. Modern conveniences allow us to visit friends through a computer screen, order clothing online and have our groceries delivered right to our doorsteps. But our bodies are meant to exert a certain amount of energy each day, so when we don’t burn enough calories, we put ourselves at risk.

Research has linked sedentary lifestyles to obesity, which in turn is associated with a number of potentially deadly conditions, including heart disease, diabetescancer, and overall mortality. There is also the risk of metabolic syndrome, which is characterized by an enlarged waist circumference (40 inches or more for men and 35 inches or more for women) and any two or more of the following: high blood pressure, prediabetes or diabetes, high triglycerides, and low levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL or the “good” cholesterol).

Even if you don’t struggle with weight gain, a lack of physical activity still has negative impacts on your health. A sedentary lifestyle has also been linked to cognitive decline, depression, and other health risks.

That’s all the bad news. Ready for some good news? Just seven minutes of moderate physical activity a day has been associated with reduced mortality. In the time it takes to make a pot of coffee, you can significantly start reversing the effects of sitting all day. While more physical activity (150 to 300 minutes a week) is ideal, every little bit helps.

With that in mind, here are five ways to sneak a little more movement and healthy habits into your day.

1. Use your job as a gym

You don’t need an expensive gym membership to get moving—simply create small breaks in your day. Set a timer on your phone to get up and move around every hour. Walk up and down a few flights of stairs or take a loop around the parking lot.

Many employers have realized the benefits of a healthy workplace. Research shows active employees are more productive and have lower long-term health care costs. Some companies are investing in standing desks and small cycles that fit under employee’s desks. If your company offers this kind of equipment, taking advantage of it is a no-brainer. If they don’t, it never hurts to ask.

2. Wake up 10 minutes earlier

OK, so maybe you’re not ready to commit to waking up an hour earlier for a full workout. But what about 10 minutes earlier? If you can’t find time for exercise in your daily routine, create the time by setting your alarm just a little bit earlier to give yourself a few minutes of physical activity before your day gets crazy.

But don’t overlook the importance of sleep. Research points to a close connection between sleep deprivation and obesity and diabetes. Make sure you’re getting at least six hours of sleep (many people need more than that). If you’re getting up earlier to exercise, hit the pillow a few minutes earlier, too.

3. Pack a lunch

If you do one thing to improve your daily health, make it this: pack a lunch. The average restaurant meal contains two-thirds or more of your daily calorie requirements. Even a salad can be spoiled by high-calorie dressings and toppings. Packing a lunch is an easy way to control your calorie intake.

While you’re at it, use the time you would have spent picking up takeout to go on a 15-minute walk at lunch. One short walk and five-minute breaks every hour add up to almost an hour of additional activity a day.

4. Find your best motivation

Most of us are exhausted by the end of the work day. Even if we have the best intentions to exercise when we get home, it’s easy to lose all motivation the second we walk through the door.

The key is to find things that motivate you. If there’s a TV show you can’t wait to watch, commit to watching it only while running on the treadmill or elliptical. Keep a log of how you feel after every workout, so you’ll remember how rejuvenated you feel after some physical activity. If you feed off others’ energy, join a group fitness class or find a workout buddy to keep you accountable.

5. Explore an active hobby

Being active doesn’t have to mean doing jumping jacks or logging hours on an exercise bike. Spending time doing something active you love, such as dancing, gardening, fishing, rock climbing, or bowling, can provide tremendous health benefits—and you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Once you get started, you’ll start forming habits that make it easier and easier to find the time and willpower every day.

So, are you still sitting down? Why?