Forget "go big or go home." Fitness doesn't have to be extreme.
There’s nothing wrong with grand resolutions. Go big or go home, right? That’s my rallying cry, but the tiny snag is that since I’m rarely willing to actually go big, I generally just go home. The more important the project, the more likely I’ll figure that if I can’t do it properly, I may as well not even try. I know, so inspiring.
One important part of pretty much everybody’s life is figuring out how to stay reasonably fit. It’s actually the most common New Year’s Resolution to make, and a huge number of us start out the year with grand ideas of regular workouts, the more intense the better. We want to be less sedentary, we want to have more energy — maybe we just want to get to the point where going up a few flights of stairs isn’t a scary prospect. It’s a great goal, but it tends to fizzle out pretty fast, since a huge lifestyle change is hard to sustain, whether it’s a new year or not.
Well, I have really good news. Good physical health isn’t an all-or-nothing kind of thing.
A few recently published studies have taken advantage of the information we can get from devices like wearable fitness trackers to see just how little exercise you have to do for it to count, and the results are awesome. According to Ing-Mari Dohrn, an author of one of the studies, “Light activity … [is] a strong factor for reductions in cancer and cardiovascular deaths, as well as for all-cause mortality.” The same study, reports The Washington Post, “found that individuals who sit fewer than six hours a day have a 66 percent lower mortality risk than those who sit more than 10 hours a day.” That’s a huge difference! It’s not the difference between people who run marathons vs. the people who never get off the couch. That 66 percent lower risk is from people who are just heroically not sitting around for most of their waking hours.
The standard is still what we already know–that the more exercise you get, the better. If you have it in you to run those marathons, don’t quit. But what we didn’t know is how big of a difference a little bit of non-strenuous, non-exhausting movement can make.
So what kind of “light activity” are we talking about? Probably stuff you do already. Basically every household chore — washing dishes, sweeping the floor, wrestling your toddler into his boots, taking in the groceries, you name it. Pretty much anything that isn’t sitting is doing more for our well-being than we thought. So if you resolved to make time for a 45-minute aerobics workout, and all you managed was three sit-ups and a jumping jack before you got interrupted? It wasn’t wasted! It wasn’t just a little better than nothing, it was a lot better.
Being totally sedentary will wreak havoc on your body and mind, but you don’t have to choose between being a dedicated couch potato or being some kind of fitness freak. Just keep in mind that moving around a bit is actually helping. It can help you stick to your resolutions, or make them a little more realistic, without leaving you feeling like there’s no point.