I think we can all agree that we are a sedentary nation. According to the New York Times, adults are exposed to screens for about 8.5 hours a day. That includes TVs, computers, cellphones, electronic tablets, even G.P.S. devices. During most of that time, we are sitting down. Then there is time spent in or on a vehicle, reading a publication of some kind, or holding down a job that doesn’t involve screens but requires a lot of sitting.
Physical activity has fallen dramatically in the workplace. One job-search website I consulted recently listed 6,333 jobs that it described as sedentary.
Sedentiariness is a relatively recent phenomenon, and it is hazardous to your health. The American Cancer Society reports that women who sit more than six hours a day outside of work have a 34% higher chance of death than women who sit less than three hours. University of South Carolina researchers report that men, even if physically active, were 64% more likely to die of heart disease if they sat 23 hours or more a week. That compares with those who sat only 11 hours a week.
Sifu Slim, author of Sedentary Nation, reminds us that “our ancestors may have been exhausted at times [by the physical labor required of them], but they were rarely 'wired' like so many of us are” after spending 8.5 hours in the digital world. “They didn't need pills to go to sleep; their tired bodies told them to head to bed within a few hours after dinner. They weren't flipping channels or surfing the Net until late at night.”
Right. But here is what we didn’t know until very recently: You don’t have to go to a gym, do all kinds of exercises, or even give up much of your sitting time to improve your health. It doesn’t matter how much you weigh nor what your body shape or your BMI are.
So what is the magic elixir that allows us to accomplish this?
Recent studies conducted by a number of different scientists all point to the fact that walking at a brisk pace is the single most beneficial exercise you can give yourself. “Not only will going for a daily walk help you feel better,” says Barbara Bushman, a health professor at Missouri State University, “it will help you maintain your independence and ability to do daily tasks as you age.” In addition, walking not only helps cut the risk for heart disease but, incredibly, reduces the chance of developing Type 2 diabetes by an astounding 60 percent!
And how much walking do you have to do?
Surprisingly little. Thirty minutes a day is all it takes. And it doesn’t have to be done in a single segment of your day. You can break it down into two fifteen-minute segments or even into three ten-minute walks.
I think we gardeners tend to do quite well when it comes to exercise, especially if we have a fairly large garden or yard. But if we’re physically able to mow the lawn with a standard mower, do we really need that riding mower? If our garden plots are fairly small, do we need that tiller?
Most of us in this country are in the midst of the winter season at the moment. There is no garden to tend or lawn to mow. So what do we gardeners do more of in the wintertime?
And what should we do instead?
Endnotes: If you have health issues or have been extremely sedentary, be sure to check with your doctor before you embark on any exercise program.
For more about the benefits of outdoor activities, see Sandi Schmidt's article, Scientific evidence that being outdoors makes you happy.
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