Regular physical activity is critical for overall health. According to the CDC, physical activity can help you lose weight — and keep it off — strengthen muscles and bones, lessen chronic pain associated with arthritis, keep your heart healthy, boost mood and improve functional ability.
“We’re built to move our bodies,” says Haley Shevener, a certified strength and conditioning specialist in San Francisco, California. Unfortunately, many of us drive to work, sit at a desk all day, drive home and then sit on the couch for the remainder of the evening.
At a minimum, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity (e.g., walking, easy cycling, water aerobics) or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (e.g., running, brisk cycling, swimming laps) every week. HHS also recommends strength training at least two days per week, making sure to hit every major muscle group. Sadly, a new report reveals only 22.9% of adults actually met these physical activity guidelines between 2010–2015.
“We tend to box ourselves into a fairly sedentary lifestyle,” Shevener says. In fact, even people who work out regularly can lessen the positive effects they gain from their exercise sessions via long periods of sitting, according to research in the Annals of Internal Medicine. However, just because modern lifestyle habits make it easy to stay sedentary doesn’t mean you have to let them.
The best way to increase physical activity is to integrate it into your regular routine. After all, it’s much easier to fill your daily quota by keeping your movement levels up throughout the day than it is to cram it all in at once. Not to mention, saving it all up makes it more likely life will get in the way: “The more we put it off and don’t make a general practice of it, the more likely it is that we don’t end up doing it,” Shevener says.
So, instead of trying to meet your physical activity requirements all in one go, incorporate movement into your everyday. “If you split it up into more manageable, bite-sized pieces, it’s much easier to get all the movement that your body loves without even really having to think about it,” Shevener says. Then, if you do get the gym, you’ll reap even more benefits.
Here’s an incomplete list of ways you can sneak more physical activity into your day. Feel free to get creative and come up with your own ideas or adapt the suggestions to work best for you:
1. Set your phone alarm to go off every two hours at work. Get up and move. Try standing marches in place: Lift your right knee toward your hip without bending at the waist and tap it with your left hand. Repeat by lifting your left knee and tapping it with your opposite hand. Complete 20–30 reps.
2. Use commercial breaks as an opportunity to clean and organize your living space.
3. Meet your friends for walks or workouts instead of drinks or dinner.
4. Instead of watching your kids play at the park or in the backyard, join them!
5. Schedule walking meetings at work or stroll during business calls.
6. Park farther away.
7. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
8. Keep a glass of water at your desk and drink as much as possible. In addition to being hydrated, you’ll make frequent trips to the bathroom and water fountain.
9. Take a 20-minute walk after every meal.
10. Walk around while watching your kid’s sporting event.
11. Channel your inner Jane Fonda and do planks, leg lifts, bodyweight squats, glute bridges, fire hydrants, donkey kicks, pushups and bicycles while you watch TV.
12. Take extra trips when unloading groceries or carrying laundry.
13. Walk or run while your kids ride their bikes.
15. Walk to your coworker’s desk instead of calling or emailing.