It should not sit well that most of our nation’s time is spent in chairs. Dr. James Levine, a Mayo Clinic researcher, calls ours a “chair-based lifestyle.” Sound extreme? Then just think about how often our work, leisure time, transportation, entertainment and meal times revolve around a sedentary posture. High tech conveniences DO save us work, but sitting and pushing buttons also means we move our bodies considerably less often and with less force.
Everyone knows exercising can be good for us – but is the opposite true too? Can sitting actually be bad for us? Although just being sedentary doesn’t make us overweight, it does contribute to an overall energy imbalance. If we spend hours each day in passive activities, there’s simply not enough time in the day to offset our food intake and lack of physical activity. Family homes and workplaces are critical environments for fostering physical activity – or for fostering a sedentary lifestyle.
The solution? Sit less and move more every day! If we can build movement and activity into our “day jobs,” whether that means at work or school, or when maintaining a household, then we won’t bear the burden of scheduling extra physical activity on top of an already demanding day.
What does sitting less mean for parents? It’s making changes throughout the day that help you be healthier and set a good example for your kids.
• Stand during conferences, calls and meetings.
• Schedule one-on-one appointments as “walking meetings.”
• Swap out your desk chair for an exercise ball that requires core muscle activity.
• Park farther away from your destination to squeeze in a brisk walk – even if it’s just for one minute.
• Skip the elevator and take the stairs.
Play It Up
Research shows that when your kids play, they are actually doing work. But kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from play. Don’t fall into the trap of spending all of your own free time in front of a screen – whether it’s a TV, movie, computer or electronic game. When your kids see you being active in the garden, raking leaves, mowing the lawn or cleaning the house with gusto, you are actively modeling the cure for a sedentary life!
Start to incorporate a sense of play into your own physical activity, instead of seeing exercise as a chore. Have fun playing Frisbee, laugh as you rollerblade or put together a pick-up game of hoops with friends and you’ll be a lot more motivated than when you’re working out alone on an indoor treadmill. Once you shift your thinking from “exercise” to “playtime,” you’ll gain a new perspective that makes it a cinch to leave your comfy chair in the dust.
Some adults still think of being active as a privileged lifestyle – something exclusively for people with extra time and financial resources. But to maintain your health, everyone needs to incorporate more activity into their everyday life. Luckily, you don’t have to pay to attend a class to get moving. Walking, talking, using your hands, running errands, grooving to a beat, playing an instrument; every little extra bit of additional movement counts.
Be deliberate about making a specific plan to increase your daily activity. Over time, you and your family will feel the difference. The less sitting you do the better, but as a general rule, aim to move vigorously for at least 60 minutes a day and sit in front of screens for no more than 2 hours.
Speaking of screens: Beyond modeling an active life for your children, one of the easiest and most effective ways to help kids move more is to eliminate screens from our children’s bedrooms, especially TVs.
You might want to sit down for this. The average kid spends about 7 hours a day in front of some type of screen. Watching TV burns only about 5 calories an hour above what you might burn if you were asleep. So after 7 hours of sedentary screen time, that’s only 35 calories burned! So pretty much anything is better than staring into a TV, computer screen or other electronic device.
Since screen time tends to increase between 11 and 15 years of age, there is a strong correlation between screen time and increased weight gain. In addition to less activity, screens are also associated with decreased sleep. So the earlier you nix this negative bedroom habit the better.
Active Kids Perform Better
According to the US Department of Education, active kids exhibit increased concentration and attention, improved school attendance and discipline and up to a 40% increase in overall test scores as compared to kids leading a sedentary lifestyle. That alone should motivate every mom and dad to unplug the entire family and get moving!
What does sitting less look like for teenagers? It’s a series of little changes that may not seem like much.
• During the day, join a friend and walk or ride your bike to school, activities or your job.
• If you can’t walk or bike due to safety concerns or unpredictable weather, then park farther away from entrances to
squeeze in some cardio.
• Join a summer sports team or get a group together for alternative sports like Ultimate Frisbee or HipHop dance.
UNPLUG and Recharge Your Health
Seems crazy, but the people in the white lab coats have figured out that watching TV and sitting motionless in front of screens is actually linked to some pretty negative stuff. For starters, the more screen time you rack up, the more likely you are to have sleep problems, overall body pain, depression and weight gain.
A little bit of screen time (less than 2 hours a day) is not a big deal. But when you give up all your free time to your screens you’ll miss out on a lot of cool stuff. One way to do both is through active gaming where your body is the control pad in sports or dance competitions with friends. And with summer here, if it’s too hot outside, go for a swim, wash the car or hit the air conditioned gym. However you move, just do more of it.
Be the Change
Want to shake up things around your house? Come up with a family challenge to get everyone off their seats and onto their feet this summer. Make a plan and be specific – type-it-in-your-calendar specific. For example, “Family Walk After Dinner Friday,” or “Ride Bikes to Neighborhood Shops Saturday.” Maybe your peeps are more of the Twister or active gaming types and you can organize a “No Sitting Game Night.” You get the idea. Anything that’s a natural fit for you and your family will make it stick, so realistically tailor your event to what you know will work. But make it a real challenge too.
All in the Family
Since you’re part of the Air Force family, you have more active summer options than most. Check out Air Force sponsored camps from High Adventure Nature to Space Exploration. Take a tour of the Air Force Academy or enter a Teen Talent contest. If traditional exercise just isn’t your thing, take a look at Sideline Sports to master Lacrosse, Water Polo or Fencing. For more information and ideas, go to http://www.afyouthprograms.com or www.operationmilitarykids.org.
Couch to 5K
This fantastic program has been designed to get just about anyone from the couch to running 5 kilometers or 30 minutes in just 9 weeks.
A national resource which fosters walkable communities by
engaging, educating, and connecting walking advocates.