When Daily Life Is Exercise, Everywhere Is the Gym

Tomato Garden

During the summer, life is always good. With the early rising sun, the warm welcoming weather, and the outdoorsy aspects of Pittsburgh, I am basically pulled out of bed in the morning and out of the house. It takes little struggle to get me outside, and I am usually enjoying my coffee while reading a book on the back porch within five minutes of the sun naturally waking me up. After my coffee, I am on my feet gardening, walking, lifting weights, or playing sports. My activity levels seem to skyrocket in the spring, peak in the summer, and remain high until the clocks change in the fall.
 
Yet, the winter is quite a different story. When I begrudgingly make it out of bed, I seem to spend more time reading while enjoying my coffee. I still wake up early, as I have found that I am happier and more productive at work if I read in the morning to wake and warm my brain up. I continually want to increase my activity levels, but find it difficult to do so due to the weather and short periods of sun. As someone who is not happy physically and mentally unless I am staying active, this aspect of winter always seems to cause some issues in my life.
 
This year I found the fix in the least likely place…
 

Integrating Activity within Your Life

 
A recent article about men with prostate cancer really changed my mind about things. In this article, 4,623 men who were diagnosed with prostate cancer were followed for 10-15 years after their diagnosis.1 The authors assessed their activity levels and the activities they engaged in and compared them with their overall survival and rates of cancer recurrence. What they found was that men who were more active seemed to do better after treatment and lived longer. They also found that those men who performed household work for one or more hours per day lived significantly longer.
 
Now this was an epidemiologic study, but this finding still stood out to me…
 
The activity of household work was likely a proxy for overall activity. Yet, the key here is that activity too often means going to the gym for many people, but in reality activity does not have to be lifting weights in a gym, jogging for miles, or even sprinting at your local track. Activity may just be participating in activities of normal life — activities that we often avoid.
 

Burning Calories

 
While I am in no way a calorie counter, nor do I endorse ever counting calories, I turned to a list from Harvard to get some answers. While calories burned are not the end-all be-all, they do provide a perspective in regards to the effects of different activities. Below is a list of some common activities in life and the calories burned for someone who weighs 185 pounds.
 

Activity Calories Burned in 30 Mins.
Sleeping 28
Watching TV 33
Reading (Sitting) 50
Standing in Line 56
Computer Work 61
Light Office Work 67
Sitting in Meeting 72
Desk Work 78
Sitting in Class 78
Driving 89
Cooking 111
Walking 3.5 mph 178
Gardening 200
Washing Car 200
Weight Lifting 266

 
As you can see from above, sitting on the couch and watching television is not very different from sleep in regards to calories burned. Sleep is restorative, so it likely has other benefits. Yet, a simple switch in your daily habits can yield massive rewards. For instance, consider the following scenarios:
 

Scenario 1: We will refer to this as “Common American Night”

 

  1. Watching TV for three hours a night (33 calories per hour)
  2. Late bedtime
  3. Rise the next morning and hurry to work
  4. Burn 99 calories for the night

 

Scenario 2: We will refer to this as “The Hour Switch”

 

  1. Watch TV for one hour while cooking (111 calories per hour)
  2. Read for one hour (50 calories per hour)
  3. Get to bed an hour early
  4. Wake up an hour early
  5. Garden in the morning for that extra hour (200 calories per hour)
  6. Burn 361 calories instead of 99 calories
  7. Feel more rewarded
  8. Have a garden that you take care of and provides you with reward, stress relief, and organic vegetables
  9. Experience sun exposure in the morning, which helps relieve stress and aid your circadian rhythm
  10. Be more productive at work since you are not waking up and rushing

 
In the second scenario, you will notice that while the amount of calories burned are almost quadrupled, and this was without ever stepping foot into a gym. Add some steps at work, a standing desk, and parking in the furthest spot, and you may find your activity levels 10-20 times higher. As we discussed before, an hour in the gym may not compensate for an entire day of sitting.
 
I have found myself cleaning my house more frequently in the morning. This gets my metabolism and brain working first thing in the morning. It helps me wake up and leaves me more alert for meetings at work, which are often first on my daily agenda. With all these benefits, I then find myself coming home from work to a clean house, which leaves me feeling much better about engaging in more activities in the evening.
 
When reviewing this list, the areas in our lives where we can increase our activity levels become apparent. I would go as far as saying that some small changes in our lives could increase the amount of activity by many multiples.
 

So What Is My Prescription?

 
While prescriptions are usually reserved for medications, there is no better prescription than increasing our activity levels. Perhaps it is not a true prescription, but I can at least give my recommendations, based on what I do personally, of course.
 
I save the small activities for the morning. Most mornings in the winter I don’t feel like going for a 30-minute walk, so I settle some of my smaller household chores. This way I start my day off with an activity and movement, with the added benefit of coming home to a clean house. This then allows and motivates me to engage in more enjoyable activities after work that I would rarely do in the morning anyways.
 

CONT’D: Follow the link HERE to continue reading the remainder of the article.

 

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References:

1. Bonn SE, Sjölander A, Lagerros YT, et al. Physical activity and survival among men diagnosed with prostate cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2015;24(1):57-64. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-14-0707.
 
 

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