Sure there are little bursts of activity here and there. Making dinner. Walking to the car. Doing laundry. But according to Statistics Canada in 2007 29% of Canadians spent more than 15 hours a week watching television and 15% spent more than 11 hours per week on their computers for leisure time (i.e. not work). Some Canadians belonged to both groups (StatsCan, 2007). And that was 2007 - before Netflix, iPhone, and iPad existed.
One of my favourite kids movies is Wall-E. It's a romantic comedy written for children but cleverly satirical of what our world and the human race is becoming. Wall-E is the robot left on earth to clean up the garbage that has overtaken the planet. The people are up on a spaceship, their large bodies floating around on jet propelled recliner chairs with 24 hour TV/on line projection and a super sized bevy on the armrest for constant "enjoyment". Sound familiar?
Perhaps not all of us are ready for a cabin on the good ship Wall-E just yet. But it's getting eerily close.
Many people talk to me about exercise at the clinic and I've noticed that amongst the people who don't exercise there are a few common themes.
There's the gang that have given up on themselves. Something happened the day they turned 35 and they decided it would all be downhill from there so they stopped bothering. Maybe they got married and "didn't need to look good anymore" (!!!!!!). Now they might worry about their children's activity levels but not about themselves.
Then there are the people who "think" about exercising or perhaps believe that they are doing it "most of the time" but in reality rarely get there. Some of this gang believe that they are too busy, too tired, or just can't find the time. Others think that because they are active at work they don't need to exercise. Or there are the thin people who think exercise is only for people that want to lose weight.
Regardless of where people are coming from they seem to share a similar opinion about what exercise is. It's hard. It's time consuming. It's a major commitment. It's as much work as a relationship. It seems that we think about moving our bodies like it's some sort of major news event ("quick.....call the CBC....it looks like Kenny Jones is heading out for a run").
In fact our bodies are designed to move. Despite the sit-down-and-relax technology we surround ourselves with we aren't built for a sedentary existence. Every moment that passes with butts in seats we are fighting our DNA. Along with poor nutrition our lack of activity is making us ill. Exercise is prevention of illness and treatment of disease. There are some essential biological reasons we need to make every day moving day.
Most of us know that our hearts and lungs should have exercise every day. Cardiovascular exercise, or "cardio", strengthens the heart muscle and makes it more efficient so it can pump blood around the body with fewer beats and less work. When we move we breath deeply and get air down to the bases of our lungs increasing our oxygen uptake and using oxygen more efficiently. This is why the rehabilitation programs for patients with heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) focus on exercise.
It's also probably not a surprise that our bones, joints, and muscles become stronger and more fluid with range-of-motion and weight bearing activity. When it comes to our musculoskeletal parts we truly must use it or lose it. And you might think that you aren't interested in impressing anyone with a ripped 6-pack or bulging biceps. But what if I tell you that building your bones, joints and muscles now is what will keep you out of the hospital later? This isn't about looking good. This is about about remaining injury and pain free and being steady on your feet so that as you age you can maintain your independence and grow old gracefully in your own home. The first line treatment for arthritis? Yep. Exercise.
Lately we've been hearing about exercise and lifestyle and the brain. Depression and anxiety are so positively impacted by daily exercise that health care providers are actually prescribing it as a treatment for these conditions. And dementia? The literature coming out now is showing that the brain is a metabolic organ not just a target of your genetics. The brain needs the right nutrient intake, proper blood glucose levels, appropriate levels of neurotransmitters and hormones, and lots and lots of perfusion (blood flow). How do we regulate those things? Diet and exercise.
We need to exercise for the body, mind, and soul. Exercising to lose weight or earn dessert? The best mythology ever. Research shows repeatedly that if people jack up their activity levels without having the right nutrition they lose little to no body fat or pounds on the scales. As my trainer Cait Lynch says "you can't out train a poor diet". How right she is.
Lots of people I talk to about starting an activity program immediately hearken back to a time when they were really active. For many of us this was the teens and early 20's. People believe that in order to be active they have to do the same stuff they were doing when they were 17. This makes exercise fairly unattainable. Your exercise program from your teenage years is about as realistic as your pant size from the same era. The working married father with three kids probably isn't going to make it to late night hockey five times a week. So here are some ideas...
Make a life-appropriate plan. Pick some activities that you can fit into your schedule at a time of day that suits you and for a length of time that you want.
Pick what suits your personality. You might really enjoy exercising alone to have some designated quiet time or you might be someone that needs the energy of a group. Plan accordingly. If you know you won't put one toe out the door when the thermometer goes below zero get an exercise machine for your home.
Try flexing. Commit to exercising a certain number of times per week and then try different activities. As long as your moving it doesn't matter what your doing. One day dog-walk. Next jog. Then Pilates.
Think small. Don't make exercise out to be such a big deal. Think of it as part of your daily routine just like eating and brushing your teeth. Put a check mark on your calendar every day that you get moving. Start at 20 minutes a day (that leaves you with another 23 hours 40 minutes for everything else).
Have fun! You don't have to enter training if you don't want to. Do something fun. Take a Zumba class, go bowling with your family, learn how to curl, try Nia, go with your friend to Thrive class. And FYI...pyjama dancing in the kitchen is definitely considered exercise.
Thanks for reading Getting Healthy with NP Sam. Comments welcome - please click the pencil icon below.
Canadian Screen Times 2007 (Statistics Canada)
Benefits of Exercise for the Heart & Brain (Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation)
Benefits of Exercise for Heart Disease (American Heart Association)
Exercising Regularly (Canadian Arthritis Society)
Good Mental Health: Get physical (Canadian Mental Health Association)
Alzheimer's Prevention Strategy Prescribes Exercise (CBC)
Grain Brain, Dr. David Perlmutter
Exercise for Healthy Bones (Osteoporosis Society of Canada)
Diet versus exercise for weight loss: Research Summary (Precision Nutrition)
Wall-E Plot Line