Stroll down the aisles of any department store these days, and your eye will be drawn to a glittering array of labor-saving devices—everything from snow blowers and electric hedge trimmers to remote controls for the TV and DVD player.
It's enough to send shudders of alarm through every health and exercise expert in the land—and for good reason. These labor-savers are associated with America's slide toward lethargy. A large segment of the American public isn't getting enough exercise. Medical problems such as heart disease and high cholesterol are linked to a lack of exercise and pose a growing threat to public health. In addition, a sedentary lifestyle increases risk for overweight and obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer.
Much of the decline in physical activity can be blamed on the modern conveniences that are rapidly replacing old-fashioned physical work and our high-tech and increasingly sedentary lifestyle.
With no more leaves to rake or snow to shovel, people are finding it harder to fit physical activities into their schedule. But it's not that difficult. Consider this: You already have certain activities built into your daily schedule—build exercise in as well.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that you should get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week to reduce the risk of chronic disease. To help ward off gradual weight gain during adulthood, the recommendations are to exercise 60 to 90 minutes most days.
A manual approach
Certainly modern devices can make life easier, but they also can rob you of needed exercise. Maybe it's time to dust off the old push lawn mower. When you watch TV, try changing the channels manually. During commercials, use the farthest bathroom, especially if it's upstairs. Get in the habit of sweeping your sidewalk and scrubbing your floors.
Adopt new strategies. Realize that for a 154-pound person even 10 minutes of light gardening and leaf raking can knock off 50 to 60 calories. Even bursts of activity such as this can improve blood pressure and blood sugar control, and also stave off depression.
Declare war on labor-saving devices. Build in a certain kind of mentality—the kind that says, "I'm going to consciously resist as many of these machines as possible."
Build your own low-tech exercise tools, inexpensively. For example, take a plastic, one-gallon milk jug and fill it with water. It now weighs eight pounds. Now include that jug in a variety of stretching and pulling exercises that call for weights.
Look for ways to make your environment exercise-friendly. When you're doing vigorous physical chores, play loud, upbeat music. Research shows that you'll work faster and burn more energy.
Try taking the stairs each day instead of the elevator, or park at the farthest corner of the parking lot. Get off before your stop on the subway and walk a few extra blocks.
Before beginning any exercise program or increasing your level of exercise, always check with your health care provider.