Move Your Way to Better Health: Physical Activity and Chronic Disease
Updated: Jan 7
Written by: Leora Aframian, MS, RDN
As the Coronavirus has swept through your city, your normal routines have most likely been disrupted in more ways than one. The standard practices of grocery shopping, meeting friends, and even exercising have undoubtedly been different since the beginning of the pandemic. The closures or restrictions on gyms, dance studios, yoga studios, and other preferred settings for getting in your daily sweat or strength training, has certainly thrown your workout routine for a loop.
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This change may have gradually led to an unforeseen new sedentary lifestyle. Let’s not get comfortable in this new style of prolonged sitting, or lack of movement, as it may take a slow toll on our health and wellness, which can impact chronic disease.
Alex M. Azar II, secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) highlights physical inactivity and its relationship to chronic disease even before the pandemic: "Today, about half of all American adults - 117 million people - have one or more preventable chronic disease. Seven of the ten most common chronic diseases are favorably influenced by regular physical activity. Yet nearly 80 percent of adults are not meeting the key guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity"
According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), the benefits of regular exercise include a reduced risk of early death, coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer, falls and depression.
Weekly Physical Activity Recommendations
HHS outlines the following general physical activity guidelines for adults:
150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity physical activity
75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of vigorous aerobic physical activity a week
A working combination of the two is best.
Moderate intensity strength training activities should be included at least twice a week and aerobic activity should be spread out throughout the week.
The provided guidelines may be jarring or difficult to follow for those who have become comfortable in a sedentary lifestyle. It is important to note that any amount of physical activity is healthy as you build up to your goals. These highlighted recommendations may not be your starting points, but they can be reached with smaller goals throughout the week as you actively decide to sit less and move more.
It might be helpful to recognize that even one session of moderate to vigorous physical activity can carry the immediate benefits of improved blood pressure readings, insulin sensitivity, sleep, cognition, and reduced anxiety symptoms. Moreover, consistent physical activity can reduce the risk of chronic disease within days or weeks of beginning the routine (HHS).
If the recent restrictions or closures of your favorite workout setting has got you feeling blasé about your exercise routine, you might just need a new go-to.
See the physical activity ideas below for a new and interesting way to move more.
9 Ways to Move More
Here are a few ways to fit in your exercise without access to a gym:
1. Park your car farther than you usually do:
This can be done almost anywhere and for every errand. Usually, when we find the closest possible parking spot it feels like a win. Try a quick reframe and notice the farther parking spot and its opportunity for extra physical activity.
2. Create an after-dinner walking tradition:
This is a great way to help jump-start your metabolism, burn calories, and get outside routinely. Try brisk walking and enjoy a nice conversation with family or close friends while practicing necessary safety precautions, of course. Walking with others also creates accountability for your less motivated days.
3. Take an online class:
If you prefer the accessibility of an instructor but are not granted access to your usual studio, there are many online options to choose from. The internet is jam-packed with workout videos of trainers offering free classes. Even if you’re used to doing group yoga, like I am, you can find numerous videos online, or live through a video chat system. Browse to explore your options and see how different classes feel on your body. Stay curious and maybe even try a new form of exercise. You might be pleasantly surprised by the opportunity to find a new routine or type of workout you enjoy.
4. Try an outdoor jog:
Fresh air is always a nice companion to your workout routine. A jog is a great way to get your heart rate up, break a sweat, and enjoy the outdoors. The convenient thing about jogging is that it can be done anywhere, including a beautiful beach with your feet grazing the water, a local park among fresh flowers, or even just around the block.
Take advantage of the summer sun and take a dip in the pool. Swimming is an excellent way to get in a full-body workout and cool off simultaneously.
6. Hop on a bike:
Cycling can help with traveling around town while adding some physical activity. This is also a nice way to build up muscle groups while controlling the intensity. Even if it has been years since you’ve been on a bike, once you learn, you don’t forget.
If you love nature, gardening is a great way to enjoy your physical activity. Gardening can help promote dexterity and flexibility. The more strenuous parts of gardening, such as mowing the lawn or raking leaves is a terrific way to move around while stopping to smell the roses.
8. Jump rope:
Jumping rope can help bring up the heart rate quickly in small spurts of aerobic activity which can help strengthen the heart. Jump rope can also help improve hand-eye coordination while burning calories.
9. Take the stairs:
Actively choose to take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. This might seem like a small and insignificant gesture, but even small sums of physical activity can count towards the whole.
Keeping a sedentary lifestyle might be doing a larger disservice to your nutrition and fitness goals than you may think. Physical activity and nutrition go hand-in-hand to meeting almost any nutritional goal. There may be an opportunity to create a new physically active normal as we navigate this pandemic together.
A Note on Safety
When starting any new physical activity routine, it is important to start slow to allow the body to adjust and prevent injury. For any underlying health conditions or preexisting injuries, it is best to ask a health professional for modifications to avoid exasperation.
1. “Physical Activity.” HealthyPeople.gov, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 22 July 2020, www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/physical-activity.
2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018.