Warning: We’re about to bust all your fitness excuses. New research shows that leading a sedentary lifestyle decreases longevity and speeds mortality nearly as much as smoking cigarettes.
In a breakthrough study published in The Lancet, scientists found strong evidence that physical inactivity increases the risk of major diseases – heart disease, diabetes, and breast and colon cancers – equivalent to the risks associated with a serious smoking habit. The study also showed that a lack of regular exercise is killing 5.3 million people worldwide, and is serious enough to be considered a pandemic.
Most health experts agree that physical inactivity has major health effects and recommend that the general public get more regular exercise. The Lancet study summarizes, “Overcoming sedentary behavior and removing barriers [to exercise and activity] could improve health substantially.” Regardless of your fitness level, you and your family can make enormous strides in your overall wellness by exercising for 30 minutes a day, most days of the week.
Here are five more reasons to get in gear:
1. Make new fitness friends.
Having a workout buddy who is passionate about fitness can be a great motivational tool. Surround yourself with potential exercise partners who can jump higher, run faster and inspire you to be your fittest self. If you want to improve your 5K time, for instance, ask to jog with a pal who’s a more experienced runner.
Mentally go through your list of friends and family, and consider the folks you know who eat more healthfully and appear lean and fit. Reach out and invite yourself into their workout realms. Tag along on a tennis match, or set up a family volleyball game in your neighborhood. On the other hand, if you’re spending time with people who have unhealthy habits, it's time to shake those bad behaviors you might share along with that whole social scene.
2. Become an author.
Once you make the life-transforming decision to become more active, start writing about it in a fitness diary or journal. You can even start a personal blog about your fitness journey, which will allow others to provide encouragement and tips. Use a fitness log to keep track of your progress and fitness goals. Jot down copious notes on:
- Distance you run, bike, swim, etc.
- Duration of minutes spent on an exercise machine.
- Maximum amount of weight you lift with a particular piece of equipment.
- How many repetitions you complete for a certain exercise.
- Calories you burn in a single day.
3. Pump up your mood.
The attitude-enhancing benefits of regular exercise are well documented, but a study presented at an American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting suggests that these rewards may last much longer than previously thought. In one study, healthy men and women completed a survey about their mood states at 1-, 2-, 4-, 8-, 12- and 24-hour intervals following either exercise or rest. While previous studies noted good-mood improvements for up to an hour after exercise, this one found that benefits lasted as long as 12 hours post-activity.
Interestingly, study participants didn’t have to run a marathon or bust a gut to see benefits. They exercised at just 60 percent of aerobic capacity, indicating that moderate-intensity exercise like walking or light cycling is enough to boost your mood. Because “get happy” effects of exercise fade after 12 hours, it’s important to make physical activity a near-daily habit, said researchers.
4. Relive your wild youth.
Inspire yourself with the old you who was in shape: Think of a time in your life when you were fitter and more physically active. Maybe it was during your senior year of high school when you ran varsity track, or before your wedding when you were on a strict diet. Unearth old photographs from those times when you looked your best and put them everywhere:
- Tape them to your bathroom mirror to motivate yourself when you get up in the morning.
- Post them on your fridge to stop yourself from p.m. snacking.
- Leave one in your gym bag as a constant reminder every time you exercise.
5. Uncover more leisure time.
If you can shift even a fraction of your free time for physically active pursuits -- working in the garden over surfing the net, for instance, or go hiking instead of lounging in front of the tube -- you’ll reap endless benefits. Researchers at Harvard Medical School studied 37,918 men between the ages of 40 and 75, and found a strong link between the amount of time a man spent watching TV and his risk of diabetes. No subjects had diabetes when the study began in 1986, but over the next 10 years the men who watched the most TV were nearly three times more likely to develop the disease than those who spent the least amount of time in front of the tube.
TV watching has also been linked to obesity, another diabetes risk factor. But even when the scientists took obesity into account, they found that heavy-duty TV watching alone increased study subjects’ risk of diabetes by 2.5 times. In another Harvard study, researchers found that men who watch the most TV have higher levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol than those who watch less. Along with diabetes and obesity, it’s an invitation to cardiovascular disease, but tuning into medical reruns like “House” won’t lessen your risk.
Take the next steps
Research shows that the average American man spends more than four hours a day watching TV. If he devoted just 30 minutes of that time to exercise, he’d be so much healthier -- and his whole family would, too. Get started by calling a personal trainer, touring a new Pilates studio in your area or putting a down payment on a new road bike.
Try these other quick fixes at home:
• Reward yourself. Sometimes, all the motivation you need is a little bonus at the end of a hard workout: maybe a foot massage, or a cute, new sports bra? Even if you're on a strict diet, you can reward yourself with a piece of dark chocolate or a glass of expensive Cabernet.
• Go long, not hard. A Harvard study of 39,372 professional women found that walking for just an hour a week -- a measly 10 to 15 minutes per day -- cut their risk of heart attack by half. Women who increased their weekly mileage enjoyed additional benefits, but those who only accelerated their pace did not.
• Take stock when you wake up. One of the quickest benefits of regular exercise is a deeper, more restful night’s sleep. Take a moment to feel grateful when you wake up in the morning and experience the soreness in your muscles from yesterday’s workout. And don't be surprised when that 15 arduous minutes on the treadmill becomes a breeze after several weeks of regular workouts.