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The exercise list. March 23, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Everyone knows that a desk job (such as mine and our friend Ben’s, writing and editing on computers) is bad for your waistline. But now, we’re told, it can literally be fatal.

I’ve just finished reading Dr. David Agus’s bestselling book, The End of Illness (Free Press, 2011). Dr. Agus, an eminent oncologist (cancer specialist) and medical pioneer (he founded two companies, in genomics and proteomics),was clearly shaken when he read a series of statistics from different studies showing that sitting for prolonged periods upped your risk of premature death by up to almost 40% from many causes, from heart disease, obesity, inflammation, and type 2 diabetes to, shockingly, any cause.

But the real shocker, Dr. Agus found, was that exercise—even 2 hours of vigorous exercise a day—didn’t compensate for the damage caused by sitting the rest of the time. Clearly, regular periods of exercise and rest (i.e., sitting) creates the balance our body craves for good health.

Since many of us spend significant portions of our day sitting at our desks, in our cars, and in front of our TVs, we need to take this advice to heart. (Dr. Agus did.) But you may find it challenging to add more exercise into your day. That’s where an exercise checklist can come in really handy. Here’s mine:

I write the boldfaced words and add a box to be checked off on my calendar every day. At the end of the day, I see how many boxes I’ve checked, look at the steps on my pedometer, and think about whether I’m happy with the day’s stats or whether I need to work harder. This is a clear, simple system, so I suggest that you try it and see how it works for you.

Check. Get on the scale. Put on your pedometer and make sure it’s set to zero. Think about your day and how to work in exercise opportunities (some of those will be shared below).

Walk. Experts recommend 10,000 steps (5 miles!) or more every day. This may sound like an impossible goal, but trust me, it’s not. It just takes rethinking all the step-saving strategies we’ve built into our busy schedules. A pedometer is vital to track your progress. It will inspire you to walk more, since you can see your progress (or lack thereof) in black and white.

I have a treadmill (bought for $35 at a local thrift store), and love using it to add 5-6,000 steps to my daily total in a single session while listening to my favorite CDs via a Walkman. But I manage to get in an additional 5-6,000 (or more) steps a day simply by doing my usual chores. How is that possible?

It’s possible because I consciously think about how I’m handling those chores and how to use each chore to add more steps to my total. Here are a few ideas that I use regularly:

* Turn your kitchen into a walking track while you’re waiting for the coffee machine to finish, the tea water to boil (or the tea to steep), the soup to heat up, etc. Anytime you don’t have to actually stand over the stove to cook, you can walk around and around the room, as if you were on a walking trail, while you wait for your food or beverage. My dog Shiloh enthusiastically participates in this exercise, which always makes me laugh and brightens my day.

* Park your car farther from the stores you want to visit so you’ll add those extra steps. You’ve heard this a million times, but with a pedometer, you’ll quickly see why everyone recommends it. And it’s easy! I like to park once at our local strip-mall complex and walk to all the stores I need to visit, which can actually be a pretty hefty hike, especially since I return to the car to stash each bag or set of bags before heading to the next store. In our little town of Kutztown, I’ll park as far from my destination as is practical and walk up the street to meet a friend for lunch or whatever. You’re gaining steps, toning your legs, and saving gas each time you choose to use this tip.  

* Scatter chores rather than—as we all do, it’s both intuitive and culture-driven—trying to compress them to make the best use of your time. Walking back into a room five times to get things is far less logical than gathering them up and making one trip, but it racks up steps on your pedometer, and that racks up health for you. With three longhaired cats and a dog, I’m always bending to pick up yet another clump of fur and take it to the trash. I figure the bending is as good for me as the walking.

Weights. When I see the “weights” check box, it reminds me that I need to lift weights and get in my 50 reps/day. This may sound like I’m aiming to be the female Arnold Schwarzenegger, but trust me, it’s nothing of the kind. I use 8-pound hand weights and do 15 bicep curls, 5 overhead presses, 10 upright rows, 5 side raises, and a final 15 bicep curls. Nothing to write home about, but those simple steps and reps keep both my lower and my upper arms toned and fit and increase hand and wrist strength.

Breaks. This box reminds me that I want to get up from my office chair every 15 minutes or so and move. No big deal, like remembering to blink every few minutes if you wear contact lenses. I’ll get a cup or tea or a glass of water, take our dog outside, take a bathroom break, find a reference book I need for my work, see if the mail’s arrived, head to the kitchen to see if I have everything I need for supper, visit with our cats, dog, and birds, water the plants, or just wander around and enjoy our yard and garden.

Stairs. Climbing stairs is fantastic aerobic exercise, strengthening the lungs, heart, and the leg muscles you never use walking on a flat surface. This is also the box I most often fail to check off, since I live in a one-storey house (the two deck steps don’t count) and seldom have access to a building with stairs. When I do (as in a parking deck), I make sure to take advantage of them.

Stand. Apparently, standing can balance sitting as well as anything else. I stand when I’m on the phone. If you use a cellphone or headset, you can walk while you talk. Think about other ways you can stand instead of sitting as you go through your day.

Cycle. Cycling is easy on the joints, but it can give you a good workout. I have a stationary bike, and aim for a half-hour of cycling a day. You won’t see the results on your pedometer (at least, not on my pedometer, dammit! it only measures forward movement, no ups and downs), but you’ll definitely see it in your shape and weight. It’s a nice way to balance treadmill time or power walking.

Play. This is easiest if you have a kids or a dog. Dogs love it if you run around with their toys and let them participate in a game. Our dog Shiloh even loves hide and seek, if we pretend to be hiding. Try dancing (jumping or hopping around while you sing along with your secret favorite CDs) with your dog. No one will see you, the dog will love it, and you’ll get a workout. Don’t forget to smile!

Hike. Say what? This sounds extreme, and brings up images of serious, scrawny guys with about 200 pounds of gear on their backs. But there’s another way to hike. Find an area that excites you—like Hawk Mountain here in our part of PA—and just go and wander around. This is a bonus, so I don’t include it on my daily checklist, but I feel like I’ve been on vacation every time I make the space and time to head out to that beautiful site.

If I had access to a pool, I’d add swimming to the list. Ditto for tennis or any other aerobic activity (in my case, ping-pong). You could add yoga, qigong, tai chi, ballet, ballroom dance, zhumba, bellydance, Bollywood dance, fencing, archery, golf, or more active martial arts if you enjoy them. Whatever works!

The important thing is to make the checklist and check it off every day. No need to beat yourself up if you didn’t check off every box. Instead, think of how you could do better tomorrow. Remembering that, ultimately, each and every step will bring you closer to your goal.

               ‘Til next time,




1. Elephant's Eye - March 28, 2012

I’m standing at the computer … but that apparently has OTHER bad effects. I did walk about 300 litres of grey water around the garden. 10 litres at a time, feels meditative, walking my garden labyrinth.

Hi Diana! I agree, I’d think you’d have to have a special computer stand with the screen at eye level so you didn’t hunch over and the keyboard down where it wouldn’t strain your arms. Hauling all that greywater sounds like much better exercise, and more fun, too!

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