The Benefits of Physical Activity
An active lifestyle can look like many different things depending on who you ask. Generally, leading an active, healthy lifestyle consists of incorporating daily physical fitness to your routine.
Consider our homo sapien ancestors and their day-to-day activities. Before farming, industrialization, and technology, early mankind spent a majority of their time walking, stooping, carrying, reaching, and climbing. Such was the way of life just a few centuries ago. While the average lifespan was certainly shorter, physical fitness and mental health meant survival for you and your family.
In many parts of the world, life and livelihood still depends on sourcing water, hunting food, and building shelter. However, in America and other Global North countries, our average life spans may be increasing but our overall physical health and wellness is on the decline. A large portion of United States residents spend their days at desk jobs, indoors, working with screens. Food is cheap and accessible, so we often turn to the quick, easy thing to fill our bellies. Automobiles are relatively affordable and cities were constructed to foster driving rather than walking or biking.
Now, it seems that we must go to the ends of the earth just to ensure we are getting enough aerobic exercise to keep our bodies and minds working properly. There are countless risks associated with being sedentary, including obesity, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, joint pain, muscle stiffness, chronic diseases, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, hormonal imbalances, and so much more.
Similar to the laundry list of risks associated with an inactive lifestyle, the health benefits of leading an active, fit existence are almost innumerable. Increased energy levels, better cardiovascular circulation, healthy blood pressure levels, flexibility, mobility, and a decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, problems associated with obesity, muscle strain, back pain, are just a few health benefits from regular physical activity. Additionally, exercise has such a huge impact on our mental health and can increase clarity, improve focus, boost mood, foster self-confidence, and so much more.
The best part about all of this is that you don’t have to hit the gym twice a day, sign up for a crossfit class, or run a marathon to receive the health benefits of exercise and improve your quality of life. Simply incorporating moderate activity into your lifestyle can work wonders. Here’s how.
Straightforward tips for being more active
There are plenty of subtle changes we can make in our daily routines to increase our activity levels. Try the following simple tricks to hack your way towards an active lifestyle.
- Tip 1: Set goals and track your progress. Perhaps you have a goal to lose weight, become more flexible, or get 10,000 steps. Set a goal and apply a timeline to meet that goal. Write out a few simple ways to achieve your fitness dream then, once you’ve achieved it, set the bar higher and start again. For example, if your goal is less back pain, set a goal to do a 5-minute yoga stretch each morning. Make a timeline of one month and track your progress. Write down how your back feels each week and monitor any progress. Once you see the results, you’ll be more inclined to increase your stretch goal to 10 minutes a day, or even work your way up to a one-hour power yoga class at your neighborhood studio.
- Tip 2: Get a step counter. It seems like a very simple way to stay physically fit but so many people are motivated by numbers on a screen. A step counter holds the wearer accountable to whatever number they hope to achieve each day. The average American walks 3,000 – 4,000 steps per day, or about 1.5 – 2 miles. Increasing your step goal each week is a surefire way to incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine.
- Tip 2: Start slow. Burnout happens when we dive in too quickly to an aerobic exercise routine that doesn’t fit with our already busy lifestyles. Set easy goals that you can squeeze in between your morning coffee and daily commute. Choose one day a week that you’ll skip out on lunch and instead go for a walk around the park and eat at your desk when you get back. Ask a friend to join you and you’ll be more likely to hold each other accountable.
- Tip 3: Use a standing desk at work. Sitting for extended periods of time is linked to all sorts of skeletal and muscular issues. Back pain, carpal tunnel, blood clots, and more can be spurred on from sitting too long at our desks every day. Swap out your waist height desk for one that provides a standing option. Every hour, stand and work for fifteen minutes to facilitate better blood flow and increase your energy levels.
- Tip 4: Squeeze it in where you can. Create a morning routine that involves squats, crunches, pushups, and lunges. As your coffee is brewing, knock out a round. After brushing your teeth or packing lunch, knock out the next round. Before putting on your work clothes, finish up the last round. You’ll have just done three sets of strength training exercises before ever leaving the house. Throughout the day, take the stairs or opt to walk when possible.
Lifestyle Adaptations to Increase Activity Levels
An active lifestyle extends beyond actual movement and can grow to incorporate hobbies that are naturally more of a workout. Here are some concrete tips for gaining strength, committing to aerobic exercise, and increasing mobility as your body ages.
- Tip 5: Get outside. Countless outdoor hobbies inherently involve some level of physical activity. Hiking, gardening, tennis, and even Plein Air Painting require our bodies to move, squat, bend, and stretch. Invite friends to join you for group hobbies or sign up for a class that will help ignite some inspiration and hold you accountable.
- Tip 6: Stretch every morning. Many Americans are stiff and sore from immobility and sedentary lifestyles. Consider Newton’s First Law of Motion: A body in motion stays in motion. A body at rest stays at rest. Naturally, bone and muscle loss occur as we age, however, the more we counteract this with exercise, the greater chance we have at staying physically independent. Additionally, a strong and flexible body can bounce back from injury much faster. Stretching is crucial for the overall health of older adults.
- Tip 7: Try to incorporate strength training. In addition to cardio and aerobic exercise, strength training is crucial. Once you’ve made some lifestyle swaps, developed an active hobby, and are feeling good about your level of physical fitness, incorporate a strength training activity twice a week. Just 30 – 45 minutes of weight lifting, HIIT workouts, and bodyweight exercises help keep our muscles strong, align our posture, and make it easy to move about the day.
Now get moving!
It’s obvious that an active lifestyle is superior to a sedentary one and contributes a host of health benefits that make our lives happier, healthier, and easier. The sedentary way that most Americans live is a public health crisis that we can start to help solve.
Start small and work your way up toward a more physically fit life. Before embarking on any extreme exercise program, consult your doctor so that you are aware of any prohibitive health conditions.
UCF Health offers ample resources in our patient portal to get and stay healthy. In addition to COVID-19 updates for patients, we offer tips for heart healthy eating, ways to connect with an Orlando cardiologist, an online scheduling tool, and so much more.