April Health Challenge: Move your Body!

How much do you think you move in your average day? Do you walk to work, or drive? Do you take the stairs or the elevator? Do you have a job that requires you to be on your feet or physically active, of do you spend most of your day sitting?

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As a whole, we as humans are moving much less often than our ancestors. And that's not good. A highly sedentary and inactive lifestyle increases our risk for numerous health conditions. We are genetically programmed to be active, and if we don't stay active, we increase our risk of chronic disease. It's often said that if exercise were a pill, everyone would be taking it. That's because it benefits practically all health conditions! Exercise has been shown to improve general wellbeing, and improve many health conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia and multiple sclerosis. It can help to lower the risk of osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, gallstones, hypertension and stroke. Physical activity can even help to increase your self control, as well as support a healthy microbiome! Furthermore, exercise also slows aging and can help to lower the risk of Alzheimer's. Research even shows that people who are more physically active are happier and that people are happier in the moments that they are physically active. There are so many reasons to be physically active!

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The fact that exercise is good for you has not changed over the ages, but the type, duration and frequency of exercise recommended is often changing, based on various research and professional opinions. Many different organizations and research studies have varying general guidelines, but recommendations can also vary for individuals with chronic health conditions. For example, a common general recommendation is to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week and at least 2 days of muscle strengthening training. Some recommendations focus on the intensity of exercise as being important, however it's important to realize that one size does not fit all and, especially as we get older, we may not be able to exercise at the same intensity, but still be able to reap the benefits of regular physical activity. Research has shown that any kind of movement can increase the lifespan of those over 70 years old, so even if we can't exercise with the same intensity when we are 75, does not mean we should not keep moving!  As always, it's best to consult with a health professional before starting a new exercise program if you have any chronic health conditions.

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This month, I challenge you to think about your current activity level. And I challenge you to move your body every day. Furthermore, I challenge you to make sure you are doing both aerobic exercise (the kind that gets your heart rate up, gets you a little out of breath and gets you sweating) and strength training (either using weights, or using your body weight as resistance, as in yoga or pilates). 

Ways to get moving

  • If you have a sedentary job, set a timer to go off every 30-45 minutes and take a movement break for a few minutes. Run up and down some stairs, do some jumping jacks, do some push ups, do some bicep curls with your stacks of paperwork - anything! There's even an app you can use called Move, to help remind you to get moving, and give you some inspiration of what kind of movement to do.
  • Consider where you drive to on a regular basis. Could you walk or bike instead? If it's too far to walk/bike the whole way, consider driving part way, then walking the rest of the day. 
  • Exercise does not mean you have to go to the gym! Mowing the lawn, hiking, gardening, doing sprints at the park, playing frisbee, or going out dancing all count! For some inspiration on ways to get fit without joining a gym, check out this article with a few ideas here
  • Make a commitment to movement with a workout buddy. Having someone that you are accountable to can help get you over the difficulty of "getting started". It's also great to be able to encourage each other to get through each workout, to avoid the temptation of cutting a workout short.
  • Gradually increase your physical activity level. Sometimes the tendency can be to get excited about starting a new exercise program and going too hard too fast, and over doing it. It's better to ease into it so you avoid injury and your body can get used to more movement in steps.
  • Do physical activity that is FUN for you! If you don't like yoga, try the obstacle course. If you don't like running, perhaps swimming or racquetball is more fun for you. There are so many ways to get in physical activity, you might as well have fun with it. Ultimately, if you're looking forward to it, you're more likely to do it.
  • Plan in advance! If we have a vague idea that we should "do some physical activity some time today", it is much less likely to happen than if we decide we will "do a 30 minute barbell class at the gym, followed by 20 minutes of swimming laps at 5PM tonight". Put it in your planner with where, when and what you will do. Sometimes planning a week at a time is helpful, so you can more easily see if you are getting in a good variety of physical activity.

Make a plan that works for you

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I hope you'll join me in this month's challenge! I suggest thinking about making a reasonable plan that works for you, that will incorporate a variety of types of movement that you enjoy. For example, this week I have put 3 yoga classes on my calendar (aerial, ashtanga and vinyasa), a long hike, a morning of running outdoor sprints and obstacle course, going dancing and a Barre3 class.  I find that planning out my main physical activity at the beginning of the week is the best way for me to guarantee getting it in, and planning anything more than a week in advance seems overwhelming. Find what works for you. I am also going to try setting a timer to go off every 45 minutes while I am working as a reminder to get up and move, as well as make sure I spend the time between each patient moving my body! 

Let's get moving!
Dr. Khaira