Many people think of exercise as a set time of day when you head to the gym or go outside for a run. While there are many health benefits of vigorous exercise, the truth is other less intense forms of movement matter a great deal, too. According to a new study published in JAMA Network Open, doing plenty of light physical activity throughout the day and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle can make a big difference in preventing disease and improving health as you age.
Here, a look at the science, how many minutes of light physical activity to aim for and how to get started:
Researchers found participants who got the most light physical activity throughout the day had a lower risk of death from heart disease (42%) and a lower chance of developing heart disease all together (22%) compared to those who fell on the lower end of the activity spectrum.
It’s important to note that light physical activity included not only walks around the neighborhood and short bike rides, but also small daily activities that involve movement, such as completing chores around the house, checking the mail and shopping for groceries.
According to this study, participants who lowered their risk of coronary heart disease and received the largest boosts to their overall health performed light exercise for 300 minutes (5 hours) per day. Those who were less active averaged about 4 hours, which falls in line with the national averages for elderly Americans who, according to this study, are sedentary for 60% of their waking hours.
Depending on where you fall within these two groups, staying active for 5 hours could seem like a daunting task. However, keep in mind light activity includes almost all the things you do throughout the day, from vacuuming the house to walking the dog.
What’s more, according to the study, just upping your current activity count by 30 minutes to 1 hour per day can pay dividends toward lowering your risk for heart disease by as much as 14%.
Small changes over time yield big gains. Instead of looking at 300 minutes of light activity as impossible, try to increase your current activity by 30 minutes each day for a few weeks, and then try to up that number by another 30 once you’ve gotten used to being more active.
Here are a few ideas to get started:
1. USE A FITNESS TRACKER
A good fitness tracker like MapMyRun can be a motivating tool to get you up and moving. You can also log your exercise in an app like MyFitnessPal along with your nutrition habits to help you get a holistic picture of your health and achieve your goals.
2. MAKE SHORT WALKS ROUTINE
Get into the habit of a short, leisurely walk around the block as soon as you wake up. This helps boost your metabolism and gives you more energy to keep moving throughout the day. You can also try a short walk to aid digestion in the evening. Invite your significant other or a friend and use this time to catch up.
3. GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR STEPS AT THE OFFICE
Sitting at your desk for long periods of time can increase your risk for obesity, muscular imbalances and other health problems. Instead, get up for a minute every hour, walk to the water cooler and try to go outside for your lunch hour.
4. ADD SMALL AMOUNTS OF STRENGTH TRAINING
Consider adding a set of 10 squats, pushups or lunges during commercial breaks while watching your favorite shows. Or try this 10-minute bodyweight routine.