Healthy Living in the North

The other 23.5 hours: Weaving movement into your life

Woman reading a book on the floor

For Anne, staying active as she ages is about looking at the “other 23.5 hours”, not just the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity. Little things – like sitting on the floor to encourage shifting into different positions – can make a big difference!

Did you exercise for a half-hour today?

Huge respect to you – this is so much more than many people achieve.

But for healthy aging, I’ve found it works to turn that tally on its head.

You may have exercised for a half-hour, but for the other 23.5, you probably took short walks on level ground (at the grocery store, shopping mall, house or office), sat, or lay down.

That is, if you’re an average North American. Those of you who are Amish (average daily steps: 18,000 for men, 14,000 for women) can stop reading now. Ditto any hunter-gatherers out there (average daily km: 6 to 16).

But for everyone else, why not think about it the other way?

Instead of counting the hours you exercise, count the hours you’re not active, then try and shrink that number.

As biomechanist Katy Bowman says in an article on Breaking Muscle,

When we’ve checked the exercise box, we perceive ourselves as active, but it’s our almost-all-day stillness that is the problem.

That doesn’t mean breaking a sweat every moment – it means lots of little “movement snacks” sprinkled throughout the day.

Here’s what it looks like for me, at age almost-55:

  • Watching TV or using my home computer while sitting (or lying, or kneeling) on the floor. I end up changing positions more often; plus, getting up and down improves my balance, strength, and flexibility. One study showed that how easily you can get up and down from the floor is a good predictor of how long you’ll live.
  • Standing up when I’m on the phone – it’s also a chance to stretch.
  • At the grocery store, carrying a basket instead of using a cart or one of those wheeled baskets. My upper body loves this! (Obviously not practical for giant grocery runs, though!)
  • You knew I was going to say this: parking farther away, and taking the stairs! I love my 7-minute walk to and from work twice a day – it’s a nice transition, and a chance to ponder the day. As for taking the stairs to my 6th-floor office, I do this about 60% of the time, but even that makes a difference to my leg strength – I really see a difference if I stop.
  • At work, taking a 2-minute break every half hour or so to walk, stretch, or stand up. Research shows that a 2-minute break every 20 minutes can almost completely counteract the negative effects of sitting.

Plus, continuing with this kind of low-level activity as part of my normal activities should be very do-able as I age.

To sum up, movement should not be a special event in your day that takes place only at a gym, the track, the pool, etc. You should absolutely do those more intense sessions of formal exercise, if you can, but low-level activity should also be woven throughout your day.

In the words of this article,

Ultimately, your body doesn’t know whether you’re on a treadmill or a trail, or if you’re lifting a barbell or a bag of groceries. All it knows is that it was made for the movement. And lots of it.

Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!