Where most health experts say that exercise is a cornerstone of optimal wellbeing, I argue that motion should be the true goal.
Exercise is still critically important, but it is a narrow frame. When I say exercise, one of your first thoughts might be going for a run or hitting the gym to lift weights. Structured programs and routines like these should be a part of your Habits of Health, but they shouldn’t be the only movement that you do.
We need to be in motion throughout our day, not just the hour we set aside for a formal exercise program. When we limit our Habits of Healthy Motion to scheduled windows of activity, we miss out on hundreds of opportunities to burn more calories. Worse yet, we start to lose the battle against a sedentary lifestyle, one where many medical experts have gone as far as to say that sitting is the new smoking.
When I wrote the first version of the Habits of Health a decade ago, I stated that even for those who were exercising the standard three times a week that it was not enough activity to maintain (much less optimize) our health. In fact, a recent survey from juststand.org showed that 86 percent of all Americans sit all day, ranging from 9.3 hours to as high as 15 hours in some individuals.
My approach to physical activity takes a much broader outlook than exercise-focused plans do. It’s based on creating habits of dynamic active living. We begin by stabilizing your healthy weight by gradually introducing the foundational principles of Habits of Motion (without a lot of weight lifting and aerobics in the beginning). Throughout, we ensure that you’re using the most efficient means possible to maintain your healthy weight. Fortunately, the most efficient way is also the easiest and safest way for you to start your movement plan!
Instead of asking our clients to dive into an intense exercise routine, we gradually introduce a walking program with the goal of reaching 10,000 daily steps. Along the way, we inject other opportunities for motion, such as standing more often each hour, walking to the far water cooler at work, and dancing along to your favorite songs.
We call this the NEAT System, and you can learn more about it in Dr. A’s Habits of Health, but the big takeaway should be this:
To thrive, we need to be in motion throughout our day. Even if your job has you deskbound for several hours at a time, you can optimize your lifestyle so that you can give your body the motion it needs. Sometimes this means getting a standing desk or taking phone calls while you’re on a walk. At home, this means trading television time for yoga or another active hobby.
Try this exercise: Track an average day in your life. How much time do you spend sitting? If you find that you are seated for long periods of time, crack open your copy of Dr. A’s Habits of Health and turn to page 355. Or, better yet, ask your health coach for help!
You can become a perpetual motion machine. All you have to do is pick up the tools!