Three, as they say, is the magic number and over the next few blog posts I want to expand on my often used but rarely explained mantra of ‘move more, eat well, live better’
Today I want to start at the beginning and talk about what I mean when I encourage people to move more. Being sedentary and not moving is not good for our bodies. We need to keep our muscles strong to support our bones, we need to move to keep our heart and lungs functioning and we need to move our joints to keep them healthy too. Lifting weights can help to improve bone density, which for us women is a big consideration as we age but even if you go to the gym or an exercise class three or four times per week you might still be classed as sedentary.
For example, it may surprise you to know that if you have an office based job, you drive or take the train to and from work but you go to the gym four times per week, you are still classed as sedentary. It makes sense if you think about it as a proportion of your waking week: if you are awake for 105 hours a week (give or take!) and you are exercising for three or four of those hours, then you are sedentary for a far greater part of your week than you are active. If on the other hand you are also active in between your gym sessions, walking or cycling wherever possible for example, then you will be burning more energy throughout the week which is important whether you are on a fat loss mission or simply want to tone up and stay fit.
You may have heard the internet banging on about getting in your 10k steps per day and whilst this figure came rather arbitrarily out of Japan in the early 1960s there is a lot to be said for trying to move more and be less sedentary.
There are many ways in which your body burns calories. You burn calories when you exercise. Your organs use some calories to function on a daily basis which is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR) but there is another way in which your body uses energy and that is non exercise activity thermogenisis or NEAT. This is the energy that you use when you do any moving that is not exercise, when you walk for example.
Crucially if your goal is fat loss, NEAT counts for a large percentage of your daily energy expenditure so keeping your daily activity levels up and aiming for 10k steps every day will help you to get there faster. However, even if you simply want to be fitter the benefits of walking, cycling and running are huge, from stronger hearts and lungs, to increased stamina and a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
Whilst all of this might sound daunting, particularly if you are embarking on a new exercise regime, there are lots of things you can do to become more active and increase your NEAT, even if you don’t hit the 10k steps:
- Walk to work: if you are able to walk to work that’s great but even if you take the bus or the train you could get off a couple of stops earlier and walk the last bit, or park a little further away from work. At this time of year it can be hard to fins the motivation so park close to a good coffee shop and grab a takeaway coffee on your way
- Take a walk at lunchtime: get some headspace away from your desk and get some daily movement in at the same time. Arrange to meet a friend for lunch or walk to the supermarket to grab your lunch
- Always take the stairs: and walk up escalators – they are step shaped for a reason!
- If you are driving to the supermarket, park as far away from the door as you can
- Offer to make the tea for your colleagues regularly…it may seem small but every bit of movement that breaks up time at your desk is great
- Go for weekend walks
The key with everything is to take it steadily. Start by just trying to be more active than you are now and build up your active time steadily rather than instantly trying to hit 10k steps per day. Have a look on your phone or smartwatch at what you do currently and then try to increase it week on week until you get to the magic 10k.
In summary, when I encourage people to move more I really mean these two things:
- Try to exercise three to four times per week whether that is at a gym, a class at your local leisure centre, a home workout or running. The key is to find something you enjoy so that you will want to go back for more rather than finding it a chore.
- Try to move more throughout your day whether it’s walking all the way to work, some of the way to work, a brisk lunchtime walk or an after dinner walk. Even on the days when you are exercising, keep moving as much as possible and avoid the temptation of thinking you’ve already ticked that box.