The Importance of Activity

By now, you are probably aware that regular exercise—about three hours of aerobic activity per week—is an essential part of a weight loss program. However, if you hit the gym every day but spend the rest of your day at your desk, in the car, or on the couch, then you’re still not reaping the full benefits of an active lifestyle. Here are the Activity Pyramid recommendations for adding movement to your lifestyle:

  • Every day: Find extra ways to be active—take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further away, walk the dog, play with your kids, hide the remote control, etc.
  • Three to five times per week: Accumulate a total of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise—walking, jogging, biking, etc.
  • Two to three times per week: Light leisure activities such as golf, bowling, gardening, etc.
  • Two to three times per week: Strength and flexibility training activities such as weightlifting, yoga, Pilates, etc.
  • Cut down on: Sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time—watching TV, surfing the Internet, etc.*

If you take a few minutes to assess your typical day, you may find that you’re doing fine with aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching, but you may not be spending enough time on light leisure activities or just being active…and it’s highly likely that you sit for long stretches! Here are some tips for incorporating these recommendations into your life:

  • Park your car farther out in the parking lot when you hit the stores. So many of us drive around for 10 minutes waiting for that perfect spot!
  • Walk up and down all of the aisles at the grocery store—just be sure not to add unnecessary items to your cart along the way!
  • Take a walk on your lunch break.
  • Get up from your desk during the day and take a walk down the hall. This is not only good for the body but also for the mind!
  • Take a walk in the evening. This can be a great way to unwind and spend time with your family. The kids can ride their bikes, walk along with mom and/or dad, or ride in a wagon.
  • Play with the kids and encourage them to be active. Sitting in front of the television set does not enhance our physical health. Our children need activity just as much as we do, and many are not getting enough. Remember that you are the best role model!
  • Push that lawnmower and shovel that snow! It’s very easy to hire someone to handle these tasks, but they are great ways to get some extra exercise. Be careful with shoveling your snow if you have heart trouble—always check with your physician before engaging in strenuous activity.
  • Enjoy golf? Walk the course and leave the cart at the clubhouse. Those miles can really add up! Miniature golf may not be as strenuous, but it is still more active than sitting at the computer or in front of the TV…plus it’s great fun for the kids!
  • Education doesn’t have to be a sedentary pursuit. If the weather is nice, head to the zoo and learn all about the animals as you walk from exhibit to exhibit. If the weather is poor, take your walk at a museum and bone up on art, history, or science.
  • Do you live close to the store? If you have a safe path to travel on, ride your bike or walk. Any bags that you bring back can be great muscle builders!
  • Take advantage of your local parks. Many communities have great walking trails, and you may even make a new friend!

Being active is essential to our well-being. Try and obtain at least three hours of physical activity each week, and choose activities that you enjoy—you are much more likely to stick with it! Be creative and have fun!

More communities are encouraging their citizens to be more active by building more trails and other walker- and biker-friendly paths. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been at the forefront of a movement to build activity-friendly communities, promote more physical activity in schools, and conduct research to determine which policies and programs are most effective in helping families make healthier choices. Visit their Web site to take the “Walkability Checklist” and “Bikeability Checklist.” If your community falls short on providing safe paths for pedestrians and bikers, you might consider writing a letter to the editor of your local paper…or even taking some information from Active Living By Design to the next city council meeting!

* Bear in mind that the Activity Pyramid is designed to promote general health, not weight loss. However, it is a great guideline for adding more activity to your lifestyle and limiting your sedentary activities.