Please, stand up from your chair while reading this article or why being active is better than sitting.

We all know how important balance is. But when it comes to a balanced activity level, people often put it aside. Here’s why you shouldn’t do that and how to adopt physical activity as a healthy habit.

Where does inactivity start?

Hello, my name is Mary, I’ve been working as an editor and writer for almost ten years. Most of the time I need to sit quietly and type on my laptop. I take a break every hour or two, then sit and type again. This is what’s called a sedentary life and I can feel the consequences of it — I’ve gained weight, my right wrist and back often hurt.

A lot of people have similar symptoms. Developers, designers, editors, managers, long-haul drivers — everyone who sits on duty feels discomfort sooner or later.

What is wrong with our inactive lifestyle?

The definition of physical activity is simple: it is any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. According to the World Health Organisation, insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide.

Physical inactivity is a major independent modifiable risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). These are diseases of long duration and generally slow progression. There are four main types of them: cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. Physical inactivity is also associated with other important health outcomes including mental health, injuries, falls, and obesity.

16 million deaths annually can be atributed to insufficient physical activity

Edward R. Laskowski, the co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center and a professor at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, says that an analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of death similar to the risks of death posed by obesity and smoking. Any extended sitting — such as at a desk, behind a wheel or in front of a screen — can be harmful.

Let’s focus on the big picture. Lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for diseases. Sitting more than eight hours a day with no physical activity is risky. Despite this, 1 in 4 adults globally is not active enough.

What are the benefits of an active life?

Fear of diseases should not be your only source of motivation. As the WHO writes, the benefits of being physically active at all ages outweigh the potential harm (that might happen, for example, through accidents).

Regular and adequate levels of physical activity:

  • improve muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness;
  • improve bone and functional health;
  • reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, various types of cancer (including ones of the most common breast cancer and colon cancers), and depression;
  • reduce the risk of falls as well as hip or vertebral fractures; and
  • are fundamental to energy balance and weight control.

Regular exercise may help ease depression and anxiety by releasing feel-good endorphins, natural cannabis-like brain chemicals (endogenous cannabinoids) and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being. Regular exercise has many psychological and emotional benefits, too. It can help you gain confidence, socialize more and cope with stress in healthy ways.

The less you sit, the more you move, the healthier you are.

Why are we still sitting?

I danced in a ballet school until I was 13 years old. Most of my sit-a-lot acquaintances played basketball or football, had dance classes and used to be sporty. But then adult life came, and gradually all the sports stopped for some reason.

This “Some reason” is often psychological. We don’t do sport because our life is tense, there’s always not enough time or money for the gym. Or we don’t feel comfortable panting on the treadmill or painfully stretching in a pilates class. We feel guilty when we miss the training.

Some of us overestimate the scale of necessary physical activity and think that swimming across the Bosporus counts as activity, but daily morning exercises do not.

And when all those negative arguments fall on one side of the scale, there seems to be only one watertight option: just stay home, it’s easier and safer.

How to start being active

Remember, physical activity is any bodily movement. Some activity is better than none. To produce health benefits, exercise does not need to be long, complicated or exhausting. Start with something as easy as walking. Sometimes it helps to make it a game: compete with yourself, try to walk one faster or increase the distance from time to time.

Activity does not have to be stereotypically sporty. If you are not too fond of treadmills or other exercise machines, start with a dance class or lengthen the distance of your daily walks, expanding your route.Swap sitting for standing when it possible during the workday. Take breaks from sitting, stand while talking on the phone, try out a standing desk, go for a lunch or take your lunch-box to the park.

If you are from 18 to 64 years old and prefer to calculate things from a wider perspective, here is your activity achievement list by the WHO. Evaluate your capabilities objectively and gradually increase your activity to the recommended level:

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
  • For additional health benefits, increase the moderate-intensity physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or the equivalent.
  • Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.

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If you are 65 or older, this is not the time for you to drop out of the game. The activity recommendation for you by WHO remains exactly the same. If your mobility is poor, then there’s even an additional recommendation for you: perform physical activities that will enhance your balance and prevent falls 3 or more days per week.

A Story of a Fresh Start

After dancing ballet for years, I was sure that my body was obedient and predictable. Like there was always an easily rechargeable energy reservoir. When I was a university student, I could run if I wanted to run, and it was easy to prepare for exams all night long.

Then I started working at my computer all day year after year, swapping the office chair for a couch in the evening. Until one day I couldn’t run a kilometer without being out of breath. After an all-nighter, I had to take it easy for few days to recover. And I used to catch a cold at least twice a year. It seemed that my battery capacity was decreasing.

That is why I decided to increase my physical activity. I tried morning running and couldn’t make it, because realized that I am totally not a morning person. Took one fitness class, woke up the next morning with all my muscles on fire and never came back. I did some yoga exercises on my mat watching classes on YouTube, but I didn’t think they were productive.

Here’s what has been working for me at least for the past six months: I figured out the most acceptable way to do the exercise routine. Surprisingly, it was a gym. I selected an exercise routine, and now I do one with three parts: running, abdominal crunches, and exercises with dumbbells. I allow myself to stop at any moment and I also increase the intensity of exercises gradually. Besides the gym, I take a 10-minute break every hour during the workday, and in the evenings I go for a walk.

For the last six months I’ve forced myself not to think numbers; I just integrated physical activity into my daily schedule. Here are the results. Half a year ago, I started running one kilometer and now I can knock out an energizing 5-7 kilometres a day. I lost 3 kilograms and 2 centimetres in my hips, and I haven’t caught a cold yet.

Find your own path towards increasing your physical activity.

Health won’t be given to you on a silver plate, like advertisements so often promise. But your effort and exercises will lead to a better, healthier life.

☝️Remember:

1. Sitting more than 8 hours a day may be harmful.
2. Regular, adequate levels of physical activity improve your body and reduce the risk of diseases.
3. Being active is good for all ages.
4. WHO recommended activity level: at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. Which means just about 20 minutes per day.
5. Some activity is always better than none.