Even with lockdowns lifted, restrictions relaxing, and vaccinations on the rise, we’re still living in the world the COVID-19 pandemic remade. More offices than ever are allowing their employees to work from home either partially or full-time. Consumers continue to flock to eCommerce sites for convenient, one-click shopping. After being forced to live much of our lives online, we’re far from going back to the way things were before COVID-19 – and while this isn’t all bad, it has come with one significant downside.
Call it The Great Potato-ification.
Americans are spending more time on their screens than ever before. One recent study found that Americans are sitting as much as four hours longer per day than they did before the pandemic. This more sedentary lifestyle is especially damaging for those with a high level of health risk – the very people who are generally the least inclined to venture out of the house these days.
We all know that leading healthy lifestyles and getting regular exercise are essential, all the more so in the context of a global health crisis. Studies have shown that adults with higher levels of fitness are more protected against heart attacks and other diseases – even after adjustment for cardiovascular disease risk factors, than adults who have low levels of fitness.
And yes, there are uncontrollable factors, often genetic, that contribute to the risk of serious health issues. But it does not change that the factors we can control – most notably physical activity and nutrition – play an important role in our wellbeing and can go a long way towards keeping us healthy.
Here’s why it is more important than ever to prioritize regular physical activity and how those who are struggling to get out of their pandemic rut can get moving again.
How much exercise is enough?
The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week for most adults. This might sound like a daunting quota, and it is natural to ask: between work, sleep, shlepping the kids, paying the bills, buying groceries, cooking, cleaning, working that second job, and more, where in the world am I going to find an extra 150 minutes?
A good way to start is to stop thinking of exercise the way we traditionally do. Hitting 150 minutes of activity doesn’t mean we have to log at least three 50-minute sessions in the gym each week. For the busy and over-scheduled among us, it makes much more sense to think of exercise as a series of snacks throughout the day, as short as 3 minutes at a time, rather than as a mammoth meal to be consumed in one sitting. According to a Columbia University study, combining multiple short activities can reduce the risk of early death by 30% and help people live longer, healthier lives.
That same study also found that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to exercise. For instance, two minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise is equivalent to four-to-12 minutes of light physical activity. Light activity includes sustained movement of any kind. Mixing and matching a variety of “workout snacks” and weaving them throughout any given workday is a simple, flexible way to bring regular movement and mobility into your life.
Working from home? Check out our youtube channel for our favorite at-home exercise items!
How you can get moving at work
If you have a sedentary job that keeps you stuck surfing the swivel chair and have limited space or opportunities to get your body moving, here are a few tips that can help:
1) Take the stairs!
Avoid the elevator and the wait. Climb the stairs to your office, walk a few flights at lunch and again at the end of the day. Don’t have stairs? Park as far away as possible and walk briskly to and from your office. Try to walk up and down a curb a few times to break up the routine.
2) Try not to sit for longer than one hour at a time.
If you do, make sure to get up for at least 1 minute per hour. If you're sitting in front of the computer, remember to blink to keep your eyes from drying up and stretch your wrists and roll your neck and shoulder rolls at least once per hour.
3) Wearing a mask indoors now that you’re back to the office?
Practice deep breathing several times a day, ideally in fresh air, where you can also take a short stroll. (At OneStep, we like to take our meetings and weekly check-ins while walking together outside.)
4) Working from home and have more freedom?
Try high stepping, jumping jacks or jogging in place for three minutes several times a day and go for a brisk walk at lunch or after dinner. Try to sit on different types of chairs throughout the day – start on the couch, move to the kitchen around lunch, and finish out on the porch.
5) Make a work(out) space.
Throughout the day, try to squat up and down to your chair for three minutes, sidestep right and left for three minutes, raise up and down on your toes for three minutes. Invest in some hand weights and resistance bands to keep by your workspace. Remember, it is an investment in your health and will be much cheaper than an emergency room visit or operation.
6) If your job requires lots of standing
Try to play around with raising one leg, resting it on a stool. Remember to keep your legs slightly bent and you'll be working on your muscles and going easy on your knees.
There are many variables in life over which we have no control – from the genetic cards we are dealt to strict policies at a workplace to the weather on any given day. But these uncontrollable factors are no reason to concede to a lack of control over your health. Rather, they make it even more important to take control of what we can, like our day-to-day routines. Workouts don’t have to be long, arduous, or boring, and they don’t have to upend the other commitments in our lives. By adding a mash-up of light exercise into your days, you can say "later, tater!" to your potato-ified self and start working towards a brighter, healthier future.
- How many hours Americans sit a day
- The impact of stay-at-home restrictions on physical activity routines in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Cardiorespiratory Fitness and the Risk of First Acute Myocardial Infarction: The HUNT Study
- How much physical activity do adults need? CDC Guidelines
- Different physical activity 'cocktails' have similar health benefits. Columbia University Irving Medical Center.