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Small movements, big gains—How to avoid being sedentary

If you are required to sit at a desk for long stretches of time for your job or school, at the end of a long day you might feel too tired or lack the motivation to exercise, or you may not have any free time left to head to the gym to squeeze in a workout. Heightening this problem is the enormous amount of screen time people may spend scrolling on their smartphones or watching television just to relax and unwind after an exhausting day. All of this can contribute to having a sedentary lifestyle. The World Health Organization describes sedentary behavior as periods of low energy expenditure such as sitting and watching television and warns that prolonged physical inactivity not only negatively impacts an individual’s overall health, but it poses serious implications for economic development worldwide. According to the most recent state maps showing the prevalence of physical activity in the U.S. released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 5 adults is inactive in all but four states. Research shows that extended periods of physical inactivity can increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, certain cancers, and a host of other diseases. It can also have an adverse effect on an individual’s mood, ability to get a good night’s sleep, and general sense of wellbeing.

But the good news is that even though you might spend lengthy periods of time sitting at your desk without the opportunity to exercise, you can still gain the significant health benefits that come from engaging in short but frequent rounds of light physical activity throughout the day that can easily be integrated into your routine. Jatin Ambegaonkar, associate dean for research in the Office of Research within George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development and professor in the Athletic Training Education program in George Mason’s School of Kinesiology recently discussed how small movements can add up to big gains when it comes to health.

Get up from your chair!

One easy but beneficial form of movement can be as simple as getting up from your chair periodically to take a break. The physical act of standing up and walking across the room can help your circulation and heart and provide greater benefits than you would receive from just sitting. Doing this more frequently at 45-minute intervals can yield increased cardiovascular benefits. A variation of this activity is to get up from your chair and then sit down while remaining in place and to repeat this a total of ten times every 45 minutes.

Take the stairs

Another tip is to take the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator in a multi-level building if that is possible. This not only can improve heart health, but it can strengthen leg muscles, improve bone density, and increase endurance. As an added incentive for those people not keen on taking the stairs, some research now suggests there may be a link between climbing stairs and increased longevity.

Get your steps in

Walking is a great form of physical activity. However, to achieve the maximum cardiovascular benefit, it is important for an individual to walk at a brisk pace. An effective way to determine if you are walking at an optimal rate of speed that affords the greatest health benefit is to try singing a song while walking. If you can hum a tune without getting winded, it is time to pick up the pace. If you must drive somewhere, another way to get your daily steps in is to park your car in a space that is the farthest away from your destination.

Cumulatively, engaging in these types of light physical activities will not only provide you with physical health benefits but will lead to improved mental health and better sleep patterns. Exercise physiologists agree—any movement is better than no movement.

For more information on degree offerings in the Athletic Training Education program in the School of Kinesiology at George Mason University, please visit the program website.