Commuting, desk jobs, and online classes all contribute to a sedentary lifestyle. Yet there’s good reason to get out of a chair: The human body wasn’t designed to sit for extended periods, which can lead to higher cholesterol and blood sugar levels; obesity; and greater risk of heart disease, stroke, and premature death.
So how can busy people who are juggling work, school, and family commitments take steps to concentrate on their personal health? Walden University’s School of Health Sciences faculty members Dr. Shelley Armstrong, an exercise and fitness expert, and Dr. Grace Lasker, a certified nutritionist, offer practical advice about exercise and diet, including ways to overcome potential barriers to staying motivated and improving heart and overall health.
Set goals. Dr. Armstrong recommends setting exercise goals that follow the SMART method: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-oriented. She says, “Setting specific goals is important in order to stay motivated, overcome barriers, and achieve success.” For example, she suggests putting a prompt on your computer that tells you to get up for one minute every hour or commit to taking three 10-minute walking breaks on three days each week for three months. Dr. Armstrong also recommends putting goals in writing so that they’re concrete and visible, adding, “Sign a contract with yourself and put it where you can see it every day.”
Plan ahead. Dr. Armstrong says, “You need a plan to follow through with your goals and make a commitment to yourself. Plan out your week and put your goals into motion.” This plan might include researching proper techniques before starting an exercise regimen to reduce the risk of injury, keeping exercise clothing and equipment easily accessible, or having healthy snacks on hand.
Create an exercise schedule. Treat exercise as you would a business meeting or lunch date and put it on your calendar. Scheduling time with friends or colleagues for exercise rather than for lunch or dinner retains the social benefits of getting together while promoting fitness. To take advantage of unused time, Dr. Armstrong encourages early morning workouts. She says, “You’ll have so much energy from your workout that you’ll be more productive at work and feel good about yourself.”
Join an exercise club or group, even virtually. Go to a gym or other exercise facility if you have access to one, but forming a walking group with neighbors or colleagues or a virtual fitness group can be just as beneficial. “It keeps you accountable while also providing motivational support,” explains Dr. Armstrong.
Choose exercises that counter sedentary activity. Success is more likely if the exercise is convenient, low-cost, and easy to schedule. A brisk walk is at the top of Dr. Armstrong’s list of ideas, which also includes jogging, climbing stairs, jumping rope, Pilates, and yoga. The best exercises to reduce back pain for those who sit at a desk all day are ones that strengthen abdominals and back muscles and stretch the chest and legs.
Make better food choices. Dr. Lasker advises limiting the intake of starch and soy, both of which can have negative health impacts. The body converts starchy goods like potatoes and even sugar-free muffins into sugar, while soy is associated with increased cancer and reproductive health risks.
Don’t be afraid of fat. Yes, fats are calorically dense, but there are healthy fats that are essential to good health. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs and PUFAs) are heart healthy, while saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol are not. Dr. Lasker says, “Don’t be afraid of avocado, coconut, and other plant-based foods with fats—they’re the good kind!”
Start the day with a good breakfast. Follow Dr. Lasker’s motto: Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper. She says, “A hearty breakfast that includes eggs for protein provides the body with energy for the day ahead, while eating less in the evening helps prevent weight gain.”
“You have to put exercise and nutrition together,” Dr. Lasker says. “Exercise motivates us to keep our nutrition in check.”