If you made just one change this year in your quest for better health in the new year it should be this: get out of that chair.
Medical researchers have detailed many health risks of sitting too much; from a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and depression, as well as muscle and joint problems.
Take a look at your day-to-day life and add up all the time you are sitting on your rump – from the breakfast table to the commute, at the office and vegging in front of the TV at night – and you might be surprised.
Susanne Reinhold, the mother behind Kangaroo Fitness in Ottawa, says while there really isn’t one single thing you can change to reach optimal health, just starting to think of ways to move more is a great start.
“You have to change your mindset,” she said recently when she visited my home to record a couple of segments for a local morning show.
That can be as simple as sitting on the ground more than you sit on your chairs or couches. Sitting on the ground forces you to use more muscles to get up and down, and naturally change position more often as you become uncomfortable.
I remember feeling fine during my first maternity leave – when I spent a lot of time on the floor with the baby. When I returned to work, sitting at a desk all day, I started experiencing a lot more aches and pains.
Getting kids moving
Remember, you are a role model for your children, so the way you move throughout the day will impact their own physical activity as they grow up.
Did you know kids between the ages of 1-4 need 180 minutes of physical activity a day? That should build to 60 minutes of energetic play every day. And they don’t get it all at school!
Susanne pointed out we are often yelling at our kids to ‘stop climbing,’ ‘get off the furniture,’ and ‘be careful.’ Instead, we should be looking for ways to arrange our homes to create spaces where the kids are free to move. She even has monkey bars installed inside her house.
Some ways to get moving inside:
- get your kids moving to the songs on GoNoodle.com (you will want to surpervise to ensure they’re actually dancing)
- make an obstacle course inside (once you do this a few times, they’ll start making their own)
- start a game of freeze dance
- have a dance party
- play animal charades (pull an animal name or picture out of a jar and mimic how the animal moves while other players guess what you are)
- play games on a Wii or similar video game system where you have to move to play
- start a game of hide and seek or “spies” that takes kids from room to room
Susanne says an even better idea is to get your kids outside more. It’s something we tend to do much more often in the summer but must push ourselves to do throughout the winter as well.
“Unfortunately we live in a society where kids aren’t really allowed to play on their own outside anymore,” Susanne said.
I remember spending hours outside in the winter with friends – snowball fights, climbing the snow hill in the middle of our court, and building forts – I have started seeing the same love of winter develop in my four-year-old. I know we just have to encourage it.
Our daughter is only four, so we still want to surpervise her play outside, though we could send her out in the fenced backyard more often.
Susanne also runs a Family Hikes in Ottawa/Gatineau facebook group to encourage families to get out and hike together.
The bonus: if you get outside with your kids you can skip the workout at the gym. A good hike can be a great cardio workout and have you tried the monkey bars lately?
Sitting at work
Of course, many people have office jobs which mean they do most of their work sitting on a chair behind a computer.
I asked Susanne what we can do to make up for all that sitting.
“Nothing,” she told me bluntly. “You have to change your day to make sure you are moving more.”
Some of her suggestions:
- give yourself cues to stand up – like when you receive a call or need to read a document
- if you are having a meeting with only one other person, suggest a walking meeting so you can talk and get moving at the same time
- stretch during bigger meetings (yes, you will likely get some strange looks) or beside your desk
- ask for a standing desk option so you can change your position during the day
You can also aim to take the stairs more, go for a walk during your lunches, and find a way to add movement to your daily commute (ride your bike, or get off the bus a few blocks early).
Many fitness watches also give their wearers a little buzz if they’ve been sitting too long – suggesting they get moving (you could set an alarm on your computer as well). Wearing a fitness watch or step counter might also motivate you to reach or surpass your daily step goals.