Why are we becoming more inactive as a society and what impact is it having on our physical and emotional health? Studies have found that between 25-35% of people in the United States are inactive which of course contributes to a rise in obesity levels. An interesting finding is that worldwide, wealthier countries tend to be more inactive than poorer nations. Today, many people have sedentary jobs, exercise very little, and rely on technological advances to get their needs met. For example, someone might order a product on Amazon from their computer and wait for the delivery rather than go to a store, walk around, and pick up the item. The consequence of inactivity includes increased risks for cardiovascular problems, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and anxiety and depression issues. Most of us already know the problems inactivity can cause, yet we struggle to make a change. Of course we're talking about making a lifestyle change rather than the more popular 30 day commitment.
A recent study done at the University of Texas at Austin found that exercising regularly is linked to better eating habits. The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, found that formerly sedentary young adults chose healthier foods after they had been exercising for several weeks. The participants were not asked to change their diets but it happened anyway. Possibly exercise reduced a preference for high-fat foods or there was an increase in the production of appetite-regulating hormones. Or maybe people were surprised to discover their "healthy self" which gave them a sense of empowerment. They may have realized that they have some control over their weight, activity level, and experienced increased energy as a result of the changes.
I realize that not everyone has a passion for physical activity like I do. In fact, my dissertation in graduate school was on the physical and psychological benefits of physical activity for both college students and older adults. The results showed significant improvements in all areas, but what was even more significant was the positive changes in those who had goals and measurable indicators. So what are the main ways to get active?
In order to achieve a long-term healthy lifestyle, start by making small changes. For example, start with everyday situations like parking your car farther away from your destination or using the stairs instead of the elevator. If your job is sedentary, get up and walk around some or if you work from home build in some sit-ups or push-ups every couple of hours. Think about how you can incorporate physical activity into your current schedule. Then, gradually add more structured exercise into your daily routine, such as walking after dinner three times a week or going to the gym on a regular basis.
Starting an exercise program can be difficult, but maintaining an exercise routine over time requires even more effort and commitment to yourself, especially when physical activity is not something you enjoy. Start slowly, set realistic goals and work your way up to increased frequency, duration, and intensity over time. Find ways to measure your progress either through the steps, weight reduction, energy level, improved mood, and/or time spent exercising. Create a plan or schedule for yourself that you can and will follow. If possible, workout with a friend or group who can support/encourage your efforts and provide accountability. Focus on the benefits and increased energy you receive when you've worked out for a while. We gain greater self-respect and confidence when we take care of our physical and emotional needs. Start today!