If you are even an occasional reader of this column, you know my reverence for an active lifestyle and disdain for the sedentary. I couldn’t remember the first time I jumped on that soapbox, so I looked in my files. My first column in January 1998 warned, “Being a couch potato is as risky as being a smoker,” citing the Journal of the American Medical Association’s assertion that a sedentary lifestyle and smoking put you at virtually the same risk of death.
Nobody likes being a broken record, so you can imagine my delight when I discovered a fresh angle on my favorite topic in the “Make Your Day Harder” campaign launched earlier this summer by Dr. Mike Evans, a Canadian physician who publishes a series of well-produced, “whiteboard videos” — high-tech, chalk talks on health-related topics. This one challenges people to increase their activity levels by making micro-changes in their daily habits and reporting them on social media.
Evans’ program notes that although U.S. baby boomers have longer life expectancies thanks to medical advances, they also suffer from more chronic diseases and obesity and lower self-rated health compared with the previous generation at the same age, even though they smoke less and exercise more. He attributes this to a “severe generational case of sitting disease” — too much time toying with phones, tablets and TVs and a work life spent seated at a keyboard. We text rather than walk in the office and even at home; Evans confesses to texting his own kids.
His point is, “Technology can loot the medicine chest of the single best treatment for good health – being active.”
Just how inactive are we?
The most commonly cited measurement is steps per day:
Fewer than 5,000 steps — sedentary
5,000 to 7,499 — low active
7,500 to 9,999 — somewhat active
More than 10,000 — active
Amish men walk 18,000 steps a day, about two and a half times the average American male’s 7,200. Amish women do 15,000, nearly triple the average American female at 5,200. Do you know where you fit? You don’t need to invest in a Fitbit to find out, though that will give you the most information. There are many free pedometer apps for your smartphone; all you have to do is remember to keep it on your person.
The genius of Evan’s idea is that it is not about making a big commitment but what he calls “tweaks to your day to mix in a little more effort.” There is neither novelty nor rocket science here, just common sense and things we all know we could do to be more active, but rarely do. Instead of driving around for 10 minutes looking for a parking space, take one far away and walk. Get off the bus a stop before your destination. Walk or ride your bike to your lunch date or better yet, to your exercise class.
Use the stairs instead of the elevator for all or part of your journey upward. My favorite example from the Evans video is his report of a 90-year-old patient who takes the elevator two floors past his destination and walks down because climbing stairs is difficult for him. but he can still descend. (Take this with a grain of salt if you have bad knees that make going down stairs tougher than climbing up.)
That 10,000 steps goal is the equivalent of walking about 5 miles. Unless you are an avid tennis player or you golf where you can walk, Evans’ micro-changes alone are not likely to get you to that goal. My own normal activity typically accounts for 5,000 to 6,000 steps. Most days, I get the balance from an early morning walk of about an hour’s duration, or a comparable amount of time on an elliptical machine. I tweak the walk to make it require more effort by varying stride length, mixing intervals of walking with jogging, looping around my favorite parts of the course, doing any stairs on the route more than once, etc.
Longboat Key is a great place to make your day harder. Report your progress and follow others via #Makeyourdayharder on Twitter or Facebook.
Catch up with Evans on his website, evanshealthlab.com, and view his videos at youtube.com/user/DocMikeEvans. Subscribe to receive new programs and check out existing ones (I recommend “23? Hours”).
This is a good bandwagon. Hop on!
Molly Schechter is an ACE-certified personal trainer with a specialty in older adult fitness plus YogaFit Instructor Training, SCF Yoga Fundamentals I and II and Power Pilates™ Mat Certifications. She teaches classes at the Bayfront Park Recreation Center. E-mail her at [email protected].