Good, tough, sweaty workouts are enriching, empowering, and if you want to achieve your physical peak, they’re also a must-do. But they’re not the be-all and end-all – and not everyone is built for, or has the time for, semi-pro levels of training. Also, if you’re spending your non-workout hours immobilized and chair-bound at a desk all day, you’re likely losing some of your workout gains and getting frustrated by your barely-budging fat-to-muscle ratio. Which isn’t to say, stop what you’re doing. What I am saying is, instead of stressing about making it to the gym at the crack of dawn, you’re better off getting in more movement throughout the day – and here’s how, and why, to do just that:

We’re designed to move all day, not sit through it.

Your musculoskeletal system is designed for activity, to walk often and for some distance. They’re designed to change physical planes frequently, by standing up then sitting back down, pivoting, turning and lunging in multiple directions. They’re designed to pull, push, and hoist things – be it your body weight or bags of groceries or a set of dumbbells – regularly. In a way, your body is better at moving than being immobilized, so more movement throughout the day (and between workouts), even if it’s just five minutes at a time, is what your body wants and needs.

Keep your joint juices flowing.

As you move through the day, all these small movements enable your joints to stay lubricated and injury-free and your tendons to remain supple as they handle the resistance of heavy objects or the stress of unexpected movements. All this motion ensures that the components of your skeletal and muscular systems move fluidly, without soreness or restriction. And movement, large or small, enables muscle tissue to produce proteins called myokines which play important roles in preventing inflammation and disease.

Use it, don’t lose it.

What happens when this brilliantly designed machine stops moving? The system starts to break down, ushering in a host of unwanted side effects. In addition to the obvious discomfort and stiffness of restricted mobility, a sedentary lifestyle is associated with a higher risk of cancer, depression, insomnia, pre-diabetic blood sugar levels (even at a healthy weight), disk degeneration and pain. Throw in reduced cognitive ability and libido and reproductive issues and you’re looking at a world of trouble, simply by letting the sedentary lifestyle catch up with you.

The time is now.

So, instead of letting sedentary days get the better of your health, take notice of how much you are or aren’t moving and up your dose. Here’s how to do it smartly and painlessly:

Pick your spots.

Jobs, long commutes and family responsibilities all determine your daily schedule. But even within those limitations, it’s possible to find small windows of time – even if it’s only 5 minutes – to weave in physical activity throughout the waking hours. Whether you make it to an actual work-out, run, or bike ride—and many days you may not — you will have taken a few solid steps to protect and promote your health.

Make movement a healthy by-product of multi-tasking.

If you drive to work, is there an alternative route that would get you to walk or bike, at least part of the way? If you’re doing errands, ditch the car a few blocks before your destination and walk the final distance. If you have kids, take them out to roam and explore, or, if they’re very small, tire them out a bit by taking them out for a walk instead of pushing them in a stroller.

Shift the way you work.

Rethink the moments of your daily office routine and find ways to sneak in more movement moments into the day: Do phone calls have to take place while you’re seated? A headset and pad of paper could free you up to make calls on the move. And who said that meetings must take place in the boardroom? Creativity and collaboration flow better when the body is in motion. Movements like walking, which engages several parts of the body, actually stimulates the exchange of information between the hemispheres of the brain.

Make the office work for you.

Walk over to a colleagues office instead of emailing. Take the long way to the conference room or restroom. Get a ‘sit-to-stand riser’ for your computer. Lobby the boss for a communal treadmill desk if having one of your own isn’t feasible. Get an app or set a timer on your phone to remind you to get out of your chair every 45 minutes or so to do a lap around the office. Making a conscious effort will contribute to your overall movement tally for the day, so get moving!

Walk five blocks before lunch.

Take a stroll before eating and if you’re getting take-out, don’t order in—pick it up! Not only does this add steps to your day, it improves insulin sensitivity a bit, decompresses your digestive system, and de-stresses your nervous system in preparation for your meal. It helps makes you more wakeful so you’re less likely to crave mid-afternoon pick-me-ups like caffeine and sugar.

Refresh your social life.

Sitting down with friends in the evening for drinks or dinner is lovely but it’s also a missed opportunity to move. Instead of catching up while on your duff, commit instead to walking or playing sports with friends, or try taking a yoga, dance, or mixed martial arts class. If you’re dining out in a well-lit area, try walking home and enjoy the added benefit of supporting a good night’s sleep.

Make a game of your commute.

If you work on a high floor in an office building, try this drill: Every day for a week, get off the elevator before your floor, dropping a floor each day, every single time you go in and out. Monday: get off one floor early. Tuesday: two floors early. Wednesday: three floors. And so on.

Embrace micro sessions.

Do any kind of movement for ten minutes at least once or twice a day. Ten minutes can change your state of body and mind completely—it’s just three songs on a pop playlist! Don’t think you have an ‘extra’ ten minutes? Try cutting back a bit on your social media consumption and win back those precious minutes.

No matter what you do or when, the bottom line is: keep moving, as much as you can. Some days you may move more than others, but try not to take life sitting down!

 

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