Whether you do yoga, lift weights, run marathons, swim in the ocean, ride a bike, play a team sport or partake in any other type of workout, the majority of your time is not spent doing these things. Unless you are a professional athlete, workouts make up a small fraction of your week. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, it’s quite healthy to not overdo any intense physical activity. But to get the best return on your investment for your training you need to move beyond exercise.
If you are striving to be in better shape and in better health, workouts are an important part of the plan. Still, I’m not going to get into particular workouts, which ones are more effective than others, or how long you should be training for. I’m going to focus on what happens when you’re not working.
For example, you go to the gym for one hour at a time, five days a week. That’s actually quite an extensive routine as far as time commitment goes, especially if those are intense workouts. Still that only makes 5 hours out of a total of 112 waking hours in a week (assuming you sleep 8 hours/night). That’s about 4.5% of your week dedicated to exercise. This leaves 95% of the rest of your time to make or break your physical well-being without the direct benefits of an intense activity.
Being a parent makes it even tougher to rely just on exercise sessions for your fitness. You can’t predict when a child gets sick or other parental responsibilities will block an opportunity to make it to the gym. If you weave small opportunities into your days to move beyond exercise, you will increase your health even with the missed workouts.
Perhaps you’ve heard, “sitting is the new smoking”. This memorable phrase has been accredited to Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative. He also invented the treadmill desk. After many years of studying the effects of sedentary lifestyles, Levine has concluded,
Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.
He details all the reasons why and what you can do about it in great detail in his book, Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You And What You Can Do About It
Just this factor alone can dramatically detract from the gains you’ve made at the gym. How many hours a week do you sit? Think about it. You wake up, you sit down for breakfast. You leave the house, you sit in the car. Get to work, you sit at your desk. You go to lunch, you sit and eat. In the afternoon, you sit at your desk again, you sit on your way back home, you sit for supper, you sit on the couch and watch some TV or read a book. Then you go to sleep, wake up the next day and do it all over again. Maybe this isn’t exactly what you do but it is quite common.Our ancestors didn't do prolonged sitting - it's at odds with our evolutionary biology #MINDmuscle Click To Tweet
I’m very conscious about how long and how often I sit. I know I’ve caught myself sitting for more hours than I’d like to. Being sedentary is just one factor that counteracts the health investments of a dedicated exercise practice but because it’s so prevalent and underestimated it’s deserving of much more attention.
I’m a strong believer that you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet. I also know, with all other things being equal, the more passive you are, the more depressed your immune system, your cognition, your mood and your cardiovascular system will be. This is why it’s really important to build movement into your lives beyond the workout.
If you move beyond exercise, not only will you burn more calories and stay fitter but you will get sick less, have more mental energy, be happier and be more productive. I know you’re thinking, “how can I do this if I have to sit at work all day?”
There might be no avoiding sitting but I believe everyone can break up their sitting and incorporate a movement strategy.
Using NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) methods to compliment your workouts and reduce sedentary periods can actually have greater benefits than your heavy sweating, rapid breathing, muscle straining Rocky Balboa workouts.
Here are some NEAT approaches to get you moving.
5 Ways To Move Beyond Exercise And Sit Less
- One of the best moves would be to build or buy a standup desk or even a treadmill desk. This way you can continue your desk work without prolonged sitting. You can even mix it up and simply stack some boxes or books to prop up your monitor on your existing desk and alternate sitting and standing. There have been studies that show standing results in better cognition and focus too.
- If you have to sit, break it up. Stand every 25 minutes or 50 minutes at the most. Even at workplaces with that taskmaster as a boss, you can get up and walk to the bathroom, or discuss a project with a colleague while standing or get a drink of water or go to the photocopier. If you’re really bold do some impromptu air squats.
- Park your car further from the office. Whether that be the furthest spot in the parking lot or a few blocks out, adding some walking in your day is much more in line with how we moved for thousands of years. Take advantage of the stairs instead of the elevator. Sometimes it’s just a mindset shift that enables you to embrace added effort as a bonus rather than a nuisance.
- Using this same mindset shift to carry things more often like your groceries, to help a friend or neighbor move furniture or other items, to carry your kid for fun or instead of waking them up if they fell asleep away from their bed. I embrace this approach in The Milon Of Croton Guide To Being A Strong Parent. Basically, go out of your way to add extra labor to your life. You might think I’m crazy for saying that but that’s how you increase strength and endurance when you exercise. Now just figure out ways to do it when you aren’t in gym clothes.
- O.S.M., pronounced awesome, is an acronym for Opportunistic Spontaneous Movement. This is my favorite way to move beyond exercise (you’re not dressed or scheduling dedicated exercise so it doesn’t count as an exercise 😉 ) but it also might be the most socially uncomfortable for you. Whenever you can turn what you are doing into a weight bearing exercise or an isometric pose (a non-moving flexing of the muscles) or balancing practice or even just some energetic fun.
- I’ve pressed and curled grocery bags on my way out of the store or carry-on bags as I move through an airport.
- I’ve done bench dips while riding a ferry or waiting for my kids to get out of school.
- I’ve volunteered to piggyback my daughters up the stairs or carry them on my shoulders and do walking lunges for a few steps.
- I keep a pair of grip strengtheners nearby and squeeze out a few reps in between typing or when I’m on the phone.
- I’ve contracted my abs, pecs, lats, quads, calves for a short period of time, relaxed and repeated for sets while I am working, driving, in line at a store, typing on the computer or otherwise occupied.
- I’ve sat down with my knees bent at a 90° angle and my back against the wall on an invisible chair for as long as I could and then repeated until I had to go, started to sweat and got too flushed (remember I’m not in activewear here).
- I’ve stood on one leg for as long as possible while brushing my teeth, standing in line or even while making a transaction.
- I’ve replaced my chair with a Swedish ball to increase core activation so when I do sit, I get more NEAT benefits.
- Dance while you are cleaning up, doing the dishes, making dinner, or whatever. Use your imagination.
Okay, that’s a lot of NEAT opportunity and maybe not all of it is right for everyone. Consider this, though, not only will you benefit your fitness level, burn more calories and be taking preventative measures against disease and sickness, you’ll also lower your stress levels.
You could just walk more. Walking is probably the easiest and most natural way to get lots of benefits without adding intensity or awkwardness. It’s something we are designed to do. It serves us really well and it has a track record of success with really successful people. It also gets you outside which is therapeutic in its own right.
What is really my favorite way to move beyond exercise and I strongly encourage, especially if you have children who still hang out with you, is to go outside and play!
Bree, myself and the girls get out and balance on logs, hang on tree branches, do the monkey bars in a playground as a family, play tag, basically have an adult recess with our kids tagging along. The other day instead of driving them all the way to school, which is about 3 miles, we drove half way and walked the rest, playing little games, being silly and having fun.
You do know laughter is also a NEAT tactic.
What do you have for me? I’ll try anything once…I think.