WHEN GETTING FIT THROUGH PHYSICAL LIVING, YOU CAN DITCH THE GYM … JUST PLEASE CLEAN THE BATHROOM.
There is a widely held misperception about fitness in our society. The misconception is that for one to exercise, one needs to join a gym. Or at least buy a workout DVD and slink into body-hugging fashions.
One fitness chain’s television commercial model of twenty-somethings with rock hard abs and screaming aerobics instructors has, unfortunately, scared away many people. If you are bulky, bespectacled and perhaps bald, you may not feel so welcome.
Just don’t accept being unfit as your fate. Approximately 40% of American adults do not participate in any regular physical activity, according to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports in its report “Healthy People 2010.” The report also notes that only about 23% of adults in the United States report regular, vigorous physical activity that involves large muscle groups in dynamic movements for 20 minutes or longer three or more days per week (their first-level recommendation). Forty percent do not participate in any regular physical activity at all.
Health clubs aren’t the only place to find a physical activity
Healthy People 2010 makes an important distinction between vigorous and moderate forms of exercise. Vigorous involves pushing the heart rate to 70 percent of maximum capacity (a 100 percent heart rate is roughly your age subtracted from 220). In contrast, moderate activity is when you engage large muscle groups in non-competitive swimming, cycling, dancing, and brisk walking, gardening and domestic or occupational activities, such as house cleaning and construction. It might just be called “physical living.”
Both have their benefits. Very motivated people with regular schedules are able to keep up a vigorous, gym-based routine. But if your circumstances are different, perhaps the moderate, “physical living” approach is better for you.
Just what is a “physical life”?
Vigorous forms of exercise produce greater health and aesthetic benefit (trimmer, buffer) – more is more, as it turns out. But moderate activity still helps prevent coronary heart disease (CHD), obesity, and high blood pressure and can improve bone density. Something definitely beats nothing.
“Vigorous forms of exercise produce a greater health and aesthetic benefit – more is more, as it turns out. But moderate activity still helps prevent coronary heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure and can improve bone density. Something definitely beats nothing.”
How does that work? Consider the extreme bad example, the veteran couch potato who spends his day at a sedentary job, plus two hours daily commuting in a car. The physical position he holds for hours on end is the same: bent knees, 90 degree angle at the hips, shoulders hunched forward over a computer keyboard, steering wheel or remote control. The tendons, bone joints and muscles largely conform to this position. Arteries and blood vessels follow the same bends and paths, but little actual movement means the relatively slow movement of blood and the nutrients it carries. Certain nooks and crannies around the body get very little blood flow in this constrained position, which over time leads to joint and muscle degradation.
Mere standing changes everything, allowing the muscles, joints, tendons and bones to align altogether differently. The circulatory system wakes up because it has to power more muscle movement involved in walking, even if it’s just a few steps to an office supply room. If the individual has an involuntary yawn-stretch, it’s the body’s instinctive way of increasing oxygen and blood flow, particularly to those blood/nutrient-starved joints and muscles. Your body craves this movement, actually.
The benefits increase exponentially when the individual decides to walk a mile to a train instead of ten steps to his car. Or when she cultivates a garden around her house, with all the multi-planar movements required in digging, weeding, planting, reaching, lifting, deadheading, trimming, squatting and composting. Extra credit for carrying water versus using a “girly-man” hose!
What other forms does a physical life take?
Often, we take on more of a physical life when we shed modern conveniences:
- Commuting to work by foot or bicycle, or a walk to a train; walk to the store for a single item purchase instead of driving
- Stairs, not elevators
- Walk to lunch, don’t order in
- Cook a meal instead of popping a frozen entree into the microwave; carry groceries home, mash foods by hand instead of running it through a blender, chop vegetables with vigor.
- Take up a physical hobby, such as refinishing furniture or kite flying
- Clean and organize your house – remember how sore you felt after your last cleaned a basement or washed windows?
- Get a dog that requires exercise – note how fit people tend to have fit dogs (often the opposite is true as well)
- Volunteer at something physical; VolunteerMatch.org is a clearinghouse of information on places that can use your health
In the 1980s, actress-aerobics instructor Jane Fonda told us all we had to “feel the burn” with crazy dance steps (which are effective, assuming you can dance). Instead, what most of us really need to do is get down on the floor and scrub the baseboards.