Are you sick of looking in the mirror before/after a shower and thinking "Man...something's gotta change!" To rectify this, most people default to "I'm going to start hitting the gym HARD and work these pounds off", but after a week or so of effort they think "This is SO HARD!". The crazy thing is that YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO FEEL THAT WAY. When you prematurely jump to exercise for your health goals, you've added undo stress on your body and it moans and groans to let you know! This article is to teach you the EASIER way to jump start your health, and see those trouble spots wither away in practical ways any of us can accomplish!
So what's better than EXERCISE to shed away those extra pounds/inches that have been accumulating over the years? ACTIVITY!!! People don't realize that traditional exercise is actually a hindrance to their progress in the beginning. When we go to the gym (or put on the exercise dvd at home), what actually happens is that the muscles start absorbing the nutrition you've taken in. This is great if you are meeting your Daily Caloric Need, but when your nutrition isn't producing enough surplus for more essential tissues, the muscles are actually "stealing" nutrition. Activity is more conducive because its lower level of exertion (by so many muscles in the body) simply increases healthy circulation. That means that your essential tissues get more nutrition for their functions, their wastes get removed more effectively, and your brain becomes more clear/alert to boot!
"But my doctor always said I needed MORE EXERCISE?!"
Most of the time, your doctor will say this because being overweight or obese drastically increases your likelihood of developing many chronic health issues. But does increasing your exercise actually help you as much as they make it sound like? Sure, a properly designed program will promote weight loss; but most people don't know how to accomplish that on their own. So how much success could you hope for exercising by yourself compared to increasing your steps to appropriately?
A review of the effects of exercise on overweight and obese individuals concluded that there was only a minimal weight loss observed (from none to around 4.4 pounds) over 16-22 weeks from exercising based on public health recommendations (30 minutes, 5 days a week). The people in these studies showed improvement in blood values and cardiorespiratory fitness (heart health), but unless they participated in high volume aerobic exercise, the weight loss was not significant and most often rebounded if they did not maintain the high volume programs. Comparatively, increasing physical activity (steps per day) towards a 10,000 steps/day goal accomplished about 3 pounds of weight loss with increased signs of vitality (decreased blood pressure and cardiovascular disease risk) in the same 16 week time period (article).
This basically means that you can lose up to around 4.4 pounds working out hard for 4-6 months, or you could lose around 3 pounds in the same time period by just getting off your butt for 10,000 steps!
Without considering diet, you could only expect a MAX of
1.4 lbs more weight loss from REGULAR EXERCISE compared to just moving 10,000 steps/day in 6 months!
If you are reading this article, that last section might explain why you hate getting back into an exercise routine. Without proper guidance, "just exercising" doesn't give you much bang for the effort; so let's check out how increasing your ACTIVITY is a much easier alternative.
But First, What IS Activity?
Activity is what we are doing when we are not "sleeping, eating" or performing "sports-like activity". This means that if you are awake and doing anything besides eating or exercising, then you are technically engaging in some sort of "activity". The amount of energy you expend as a result of these things is termed NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) and is where you have the most control over how much energy you burn on a daily basis.
Whereas exercise accounts for around 5% of your daily caloric expenditure on average, your activity accounts for nearly 15% of the energy burned per day. Without changing your diet, optimizing your activity is therefore your best strategy to create the metabolic benefit you are looking for. So how do we optimize this for health and metabolic benefits? We improve our NEAT expenditure by increasing the amount of the body involved in the activity. Do this by getting up and WALKING more frequently, rather than smaller activities like typing on the computer all day. Walking involves most of your muscles, your lungs, etc. to circulate more oxygen and nutrients around the body, while clearing wastes more effectively. More oxygen circulating lends more potential for fat burn, so bigger movements like walking also prime your body for future aerobic exercise! Just "moving" means that everything in you also moves, so being "active" at 10,000+ steps per day should be everyone's minimum goal to optimize health and metabolism.
But How Do I Get THAT MANY Steps per Day?
The same way you eat an elephant...one bite (or chunk) at a time! Breaking this goal up into 5 minute chunks of activity every waking hour makes reaching 10,000 steps achievable for anyone. Just get up and move for 5 minutes straight every hour to get a little over 700 steps each time. You do this by taking a long route to the bathroom or getting a drink, parking further away from destinations, not consolidating trips, etc. You might think that it is more efficient to accomplish as much as you can in as few movements/time as possible, but it is actually quite the opposite when it comes to your health.
Our bodies have adapted to be consistently moving vehicles, so our modern lifestyles have impeded our ability to function optimally. To resolve this, we need to "hack" our modern lifestyles by CONSCIOUSLY increasing our activity; which makes us work efficiently again. It may seem like dedicating time to activity would decrease the amount of work you get done, but it actually induces the opposite! You'll spend more of your time in activity, yes, but your brain actually becomes more resilient to cognitive decline as a result (article). This means that you remain more mentally alert and good at what you do for LONGER if you maintain adequate activity in your lifestyle. Where efficiency DOES matter is in choosing a quality lifestyle tracker to make remembering activity even easier. The best lifestyle trackers will actually prompt you to take these activity breaks through audible or vibrating alerts, and positively encourage you when you've reached milestones! Because who doesn't like encouragement when trying to make a lifestyle change?
Lifestyle Trackers Remind/Motivate You to be Active!
If you find your schedule proves unmanageable for these necessary activity breaks, take a morning or lunch walk as a productive supplement. Notice the emphasis there. You can't replace being active through the day with just moving more at one time, so remember that longer walks are something that only add to your daily average when you are lacking. Such walks should only be implemented in the morning or mid-day on top of still getting your activity breaks through the day. Ideally, you don't want any of these compensatory walks to happen after dinner because they could unnecessarily interfere with your sleep patterns. Instead, be sure to concentrate your activity in the first 12-14 hours of your day. That way you'll have at least 2 hours to wind-down and achieve the requisite 7-9 hours to sleep on average.
When we want to see our bodies start changing and feel better, we should begin by increasing ACTIVITY before exercise. Focusing on getting our activity up to a minimum of 10,000 steps per day will increase the health of our tissues; while also removing metabolic wastes from the body (which is where we lose the most fat/weight) overall. Something as easy as walking at the frequencies mentioned above will stimulate the processes you are wanting to accomplish AND make your brain work better for longer. With nearly the same effect on weight loss over time compared to hitting the gym five times a week for 6 months, it should be clear that increasing ACTIVITY over exercise is a much more practical "step" to get on the right track and feel good about what you are doing. Once regular walking has become a normal part of your life, THEN you will be motivated and capable of maintaining an appropriate exercise program on top of your activity. Just remember that nutrition has more overall effect on your bodily changes than anything, but understanding activity versus exercise will make getting started a much less daunting endeavor with better circulation. So lace 'em up, and get moving towards the healthier you!
We hope that this article helped provide practical insights into why activity is your higher priority when getting started compared to exercise. While you balance your hydration and nutrition to fuel your goals, it is the circulation from activity that gets rid of the wastes contributing to the excess storage most people see when they look in the mirror. Stay tuned for our next article to continue increasing your health knowledge and SEE YOURSELF CHANGE even more!