“The natural force within us is the greatest healer of all.” Hippocrates Circa 450 BC

When people are asked why they aren’t physically active enough, the most common answer is that they don’t have enough time. We have built a society that purposely engineers activity out of our daily lives requiring us to use leisure time to be active. For example, many manufacturing jobs have disappeared due to automation, one no longer has to take their rug outside and beat it to clean it when owning a vacuum cleaner, even watching TV has gotten more sedentary as you don’t have to walk to the TV to change channels. We also collectively face a never-ending endeavour to become more efficient and pack more tasks into our day. As a result, many of us do not get the recommended physical activity levels through regular daily routine and have to use our leisure time to exercise. This works for some people but not all.

One of the first things I tell people I counsel is to write out a weekly time chart to see where they spend time and alongside that, goals they have like being active. Obvious things such as work, household chores and other common commitments will be easy to write out but it also needs to include things like time spent watching TV, driving places and other sedentary activities. These things can be as equally important as working, however, many of us soon realize that how we spend our time doesn’t always match our goals and we can usually reduce some current activities unrelated to our goals to fit others in, such as physical activity.

In addition, we should consider that the solution to not getting enough activity needs to fit the problem; namely we need to engineer activity back into our lives. In communities that do not use technology, such as the Amish, physical activity levels have been reported nearly twice that of the general population. This is not to say that we should dispense with technology and walk everywhere, but it does show us how we might be able to increase our activity.

The response that someone doesn’t have time to be active or exercise indicates the impression that being active takes away time. But that doesn’t have to be the case. In plenty of situations, walking or cycling can be the fastest way to move around town. Here are some ways to increase your activity while being more efficient:

  • Walking up to two flights of stairs is generally quicker than waiting for and taking an elevator. The challenge is that in some buildings finding the stairs is not obvious as the elevators are usually right in view from the entrance. Several studies have found that stair use increases with posting a simple sign by the elevators indicating where the stairs are.
  • Park further away in the parking lot from your destination. Many of us will drive around a parking lot (like a shopping mall) until we find the closest parking spot to the door. Navigating through the parking lot with other cars and pedestrians about can take time whereas parking at the first spot one sees, or even the furthest one away and walking to the door can be quicker.
  • Conduct errands either by bicycle or walking. For those people who live in or near city centres, using what we call active transportation, such as walking or cycling, can be quicker than driving especially during rush hour. In addition, it can save money as you don’t need to pay for parking expenses.
  • We recently demonstrated that doing household chores is an effective way to get physical activity and reduce risk for heart disease and premature death.

The examples above are just a few ways of fitting in activity into your life. Other ideas include going for a walk during a lunch break; this helps get some activity in while also making you fresher for the afternoon. Having walking meetings with your colleagues instead of sitting down at a desk.

Even with these changes, some people may still need to be more active and wish to exercise so they can get their heart rate up. Fitting in activity during social visits is also a good way to go whether it be walking with friends, playing tennis or a game of basketball.

As you increase your daily activity you may wish to monitor it to see how you are progressing. For many of the suggestions above, getting a pedometer will tell you how well you are doing by taking the stairs and walking for errands.

Being active ourselves also helps others be active as we act as role models whether we know it or not. So when you are more active, it sends a message to your family, friends and neighbours that they can do it to.

In the next blog I will discuss how different types of activities and their health benefits.

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