Q: Rabbi, thank you for your efforts to help us become healthier.
I am 60 years old. Weight is not an issue, B”H, looking to do my part in staying healthy and increasing energy. I don’t do any exercise and sit most of the day.
I imagine you have heard this before. I am thinking of getting some kind of equipment that won’t end up being a “clothes hanger” and will allow me to learn a sefer while doing the exercise or perhaps walk while listening to a shiur.
Would appreciate any thoughts you have that can help, thanks!
A: Thanks for your email and the kind words. It sounds like intellectually, you understand that being more active and moving your body to a greater degree is important, but it is not enough of a priority to actually set aside time to do it. Let’s discuss the benefits of movement, the flip side (often an important motivating tool) and some steps we can take to improve the situation.
“Sitting will kill you” is a headline that caught my eye recently. In fact, many recent studies have revealed that being sedentary and sitting too much will shorten one’s lifespan, diminish quality of life, and contribute to the development of chronic diseases. Sitting more than eight hours a day without any added physical activity puts your risk of death at levels similar to obesity and smoking. Meanwhile, sedentary jobs in the U.S. have increased 83 percent since 1950, and physically active jobs now make up less than 20 percent of the U.S. workforce.
Modern life has become a mismatch for the movement-heavy lifestyle our bodies need in order to stay healthy. Our ancestors had to move to do just about everything. But today, we commute in cars, work at desks, and order our meals via smartphone apps. In other words: Our bodies require movement, but our modern world of convenience doesn’t!
Benefits Of Physical Activity
Examining the immediate and long-term benefits of physical activity provides clear evidence that the human body is made to move. Examples of powerful benefits of movement include:
- Lower blood pressure
- Better regulation of blood sugar
- Lower resting heart rate
- Better control of body fat
- Improved immune function
- Increased muscular strength and endurance
- Improved cardiorespiratory functioning
- Increased flexibility
- Better joint health
- Improved mental functioning
- Higher quality of sleep
In just a few minutes, physical activity boosts our metabolism. Research shows that physical activity decreases depression and increases self-esteem. This list could go on and on. Further, it is important to realize that the human body contains more than 600 muscles, which is an indication that the body was constructed for amazing physical capabilities. It is clear that the human body functions best when it is active. There is power in motion!
Consequences Of Physical Inactivity
Further proof that the human body was designed to move are the consequences of not moving. Physical inactivity leads to deterioration, such as:
- Loss of bone density
- Stiffening of joints
- Weakening of muscles
- Weakening of the heart and lungs
- Degeneration of the cellular energy systems
As soon as one sits down, electrical activity shuts off in the leg muscles. Calorie burning is significantly reduced (potentially to as little as one calorie or less, depending on one’s height, weight, gender, etc.) and lipase, an enzyme in the legs that assists with the breakdown of fat, dramatically and rapidly drops. After two hours of sitting, HDL (the so-called “good cholesterol”) levels drop by 20 percent. After 24 hours of sitting, insulin effectiveness drops 24 percent and the risk for diabetes rises. Sitting increases the risk of death up to 40 percent.
Inactivity is killing people and is arguably one of the greatest threats of our time. The World Health Organization (WHO) asserts that physical inactivity constitutes the fourth leading cause of death, causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths globally.
What Can I Do To Be More Active?
Finding time to do a full workout on a daily basis can be tough. Stay in better shape by getting on your feet more often with these simple little life hacks.
- Drink up
Sipping water throughout the day keeps you hydrated and creates mini-breaks. Bathroom stop, anyone?
- Park far and walk (or get off early)
Pick the spot that’s furthest from the building. Don’t drive? Get off the bus or subway one stop early and walk the rest of the way into work.
- Skip the elevator
Opting to take the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator is good for your heart…and legs, lungs, core, etc.!
- Pump your legs
Ride your bike whenever possible. The crisp fall air is perfect for a long journey on two wheels.
- Work your bags
Think of your purse or shopping bag as a dumbbell, and do bicep curls with one arm while walking through the mall. After a few reps, switch sides.
- “Surf” public transport
When safe and appropriate, try to stand while riding the bus or train. As the next stop approaches, ground your feet, gently bend your knees, and engage your abs to stay upright in a surfer’s stance.
- Walk and talk
Instead of sitting at your desk doodling, get up and stroll around while you chat on the phone.
- Do a walking meeting
Instead of sitting in the conference room, take your next brainstorm session for a spin around the block. Taking in the scenery while engaging in conversation can amp up your inspiration.
- Squat while you shop
Turn the grocery store into a gym. Do some calf raises to reach something on the top shelf, and try a few squats or lunges while steering your shopping cart down the aisle. If anyone gives you a strange look, invite them to join.
- Fit in a coach
You can break a sweat anytime, anywhere with the right app for tracking and guidance. Contact me for more details.