Here’s the least amount of activity – 2 minutes –
for the biggest health effect.
You’ve probably seen the latest headlines – ‘Sitting is the new smoking’. It’s true – sitting really does have a negative effect on your health, as does inactivity generally.
But here’s the good news for those of us whose jobs involve sitting, or whose heart sinks at yet another article on exercise.
Good news 1: Two minutes is all it takes
Yes, sitting for long periods does increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes because it slows down your arterial blood circulation. But two recent studies show that a short 10-minute stroll each hour restored the previous circulation levels and prevented the negative effects (1, 2).
A further study (3) showed that even a 2-minute ‘light intensity activity such as walking’ each hour reduced mortality risk.
Good news 2: Brisk walking rivals running for positive health effects
A study in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (4) shows that women who walk briskly for an average of 25 minutes a day can reduce the risk of heart attack and cardiac death by 35% – a similar reduction to what the same period of running can achieve.
This amount of weekly brisk walking would also burn 1,200 calories which is enough – all other factors being equal – to shed 17 lbs a year. That would, in turn, increase insulin resistance and significantly decrease the risk of diabetes.
Even more upbeat is a study a study (5) from Saarland University Germany which found that just 25 minutes a day of brisk walking can increase the activity of a hormone called telomerase which helps the body mend its own DNA – potentially leading, states the author, to an additional 7 years of life.
This level of activity preserves your muscle mass, which in turn increases your fat-burning metabolism, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight. It also encourages growth factors that affect the production of new blood vessels in the brain – thereby increasing your mental sharpness and reducing your risk of dementia.
And this same moderate level of activity reduces blood pressure, counteracts against the normal age-related decline in immune function and helps to reduce inflammation within body tissues, which is a key driver of almost all the age related diseases.
That’s a catalogue of health outcomes that any drug manufacturer would be desperate to patent!
Good news 3: Get strong to live long
Having shown that you don’t need to pound the streets or to be a gym rat to be healthier, let’s up the game a bit.
Researchers at America’s Columbia University and Penn State College of Medicine examined the health records of 30,000 people over 65. They discovered that those who did strength training twice a week were 41% less likely to die from heart disease and 19% less likely to die from cancer than their sedentary counterparts – and they lived longer.
You don’t need any equipment to strength-train, a mat or grass will do! You can simply use your body’s own weight for resistance.
So a combination of a few push-ups like these …
… and a few pull-ups (or partial “crunches”) like these is all it takes.
Partial crunches are helpful to strengthen your back and your stomach muscles. This is a safe way to do them.
Lie with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Cross your arms over your chest or put your hands behind your neck. Tighten stomach muscles and raise your shoulders off the floor. Breathe out as you lift your shoulders off the ground.
It’s important that you do not lead with your elbows, or use your arms to pull your neck off the floor.
Hold the position for a second, then slowly lower your back down. Repeat up to 5 to 10 times.
This technique prevents too much stress on your lower back. Your feet, your coccyx (tailbone) and lower back should remain in contact with the mat or ground at all times.
Start with as many push-ups and partial crunches as you can manage – it might be as little as 2 or 3. And as your strength increases move up gradually to 10.
Finally round out these straightforward strength exercises with 8-12 repetitions with a hand weight made simply from a plastic bottle filled with water.
NOTE: Although these exercises are suitable for almost any age, consult your doctor if you have not done any strength exercises for some years.
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- Impact of prolonged sitting on lower and upper limb micro- and macrovascular dilator function. Restaino RM1, Holwerda SW1, Credeur DP2, Fadel PJ1,3, Padilla J3,4,5.
Exp Physiol. 2015 Jul 1;100(7):829-38. doi: 10.1113/EP085238. Epub 2 Med Sci Sports Exerc.
- Effect of prolonged sitting and breaks in sitting time on endothelial function. Thosar SS1, Bielko SL, Mather KJ, Johnston JD, Wallace JP. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015 Apr;47(4):843-9. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000479.
- Light-intensity physical activities and mortality in the United States general population and CKD subpopulation. Beddhu S1, Wei G2, Marcus RL3, Chonchol M4, Greene T2. J Am Soc Nephrol. 2015 Jul 7;10(7):1145-53. doi: 10.2215/CJN.08410814. Epub 2015 Apr 30.
- A Prospective Study of Walking as Compared with Vigorous Exercise in the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease in Women. JoAnn E. Manson, M.D., Dr.P.H., Frank B. Hu, M.D., Ph.D., Janet W. Rich-Edwards, Sc.D., Graham A. Colditz, M.D., Dr.P.H., Meir J. Stampfer, M.D., Dr.P.H., Walter C. Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H., Frank E. Speizer, M.D., and Charles H. Hennekens, M.D., Dr.P.H. N Engl J Med 1999; 341:650-658August 26, 1999DOI: 10.1056/NEJM199908263410904
- Reduced total and cause-specific mortality from walking and running in diabetes Paul T. Williams : J Am Soc Nephrol. 2015 Jul 7;10(7):1145-53. doi: 10.2215/CJN.08410814.