Part two of this three part series on losing weight easily while living a happy healthy green life focuses on physical activity. Just as there are many diet plans that can be found on sites like Pinterest, that promise to lose weight quickly (because that is really what we really want). There are all kinds of workout plans and challenges shown with images of super lean bodies.
As many of us do with diets, we jump into these exercise challenges or workouts full of enthusiasm. Many of the challenges and workout plans have few days for recovery, our muscles start to hurt, and without recovery time they just do not recover, become sore to the point of affecting daily activities and we give up.
I tried a popular intense workout series a few years ago and although I was quite fit at the time, I had problems with my calf muscles and surrounding tissue. The daily workouts combined with the types of high impact movements meant that my calf muscles and surrounding tissue did not recover between workouts. The workouts accumulated and my lower legs became very painful.
Why do we need to be physically active?
When we want to lose weight, we need to increase our body’s energy expenditure compared to our energy intake through food so that we gradually reduce our body fat. We also want to make sure that our body’s systems, for example hormones such as insulin and cortisol are not working against us by triggering us to make bad food choices and increase our fat storage.
The easiest way to increase our energy expenditure is through physical activity. Physically activity accounts for 15-30% of total daily energy expenditure for the average person.
Physical activity is the closest thing to a miracle drug we have. Physical activity has both mental and physical benefits to us. The physical benefits include keeping your body healthy and functioning well, as well as preventing serious illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and the increasingly prevalent diabetes. The mental wellbeing benefits include improved mood and sleep quality; reduced stress, anxiety and fatigue; improved self-esteem. In older people staying active has the additional benefits of improving cognitive function, memory, attention and reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
Physical Activity without “Working Out”
So how do you increase your activity level without “working out” or “going to the gym”? The simple answer is just move around more.
Less than 100 years ago people did not have to worry about joining a gym, exercising or being physically active. Most people had to walk, ride, or bicycle to get to and from their places of work, their homes and to and from many of their social activities. Cleaning, cooking, washing and carrying fuel to heat our houses were physical activities as people did not have lots of appliances to do the work for them.
Nowadays, movement has been largely engineered out of our daily lives. We sit for large portions of the day in front of computers and handheld device screens, or behind the wheel of a car. Sitting all day and then doing a hard workout is also not the answer as you are still sedentary most of the day. Unless you keep moving throughout the day you may use less fuel than those who move more throughout the day and you may feel more tired.
Studies have compared modern children to Old Order Mennonite children who are living traditional lifestyles with exercise embedded into their daily lives. The Mennonite children do not take gym classes or participate in organized sports yet they are fitter, stronger and leaner than contemporary Canadian children.
Move throughout the day
So if we want to be fitter, stronger and leaner we don’t have to “workout” or “go to the gym”. The truth is that all we have to do is move and embed exercise back into our lives. This was illustrated on television programs like “The Truth About Exercise” with Michael Mosley and “The Truth About Calories” with Dr Chris Van Tulleken. They demonstrate that moving throughout the day can burn more calories than a hard workout and be less tiring.
Some simple ways to increase our movement throughout the day are:
- If you are sitting watching television or working at the computer set yourself a timer, for example every 25 minutes get up and move around for five minutes. Walk around in the commercials, squat, lunge, just move! This way you can get 10 minutes of movement an hour.
- Stand up and move around when you are talking on the phone.
- Do some manual work or projects such as housework, vacuuming, sweeping, scrubbing, gardening etc.
- Increase your transportation-related physical activity such as walking or biking to destinations, or walking to transit stops.
Walking has been the primary method of transportation for the majority of human history. Walking has allowed us to travel long distances in an energy efficient manner. Nowadays, however many of us walk very little. This is a real shame because there are so many mental and physical benefits to walking, plus it is really enjoyable. You don’t even need any special clothing, equipment or facilities to walk. I recently worked in a nearby town and would park my car in the morning and try to do all my errands by foot at lunchtime.
Easy tips to increase the amount you walk
- When doing errands park your car in a central location and walk to the different locations.
- Go for a walk at lunchtime, even take your camera and see what you can discover.
- If you use public transit get off one stop earlier and then walk the rest of the way.
- If you have dogs, take them too, they will thank you for it.
- In the winter walking can be a challenge due to the ice and snow, try some anti-slip walking cleats over your boots.
- Give snow-shoeing a try; it is a lovely way to get out in the winter.
- Take walking meetings at work.
- Go with a friend so that you can chat as you walk.
- To increase your intensity try picking up the pace, walking up hills, stairs or other terrain.
Strength, No gym required
Being strong, fit and healthy is not only important for our overall wellbeing but is also important for our weight loss efforts. In our quest to increase total daily energy expenditure, we want to carry more muscle as they use more energy at rest than fat. If we do not keep active our muscle mass starts decreasing in our 30s.
There are 7 basic functional human movements, these are: push, pull, squat, lunge, hinge, rotation, gait. We want to make sure we are using all these movements on a regular basis to maintain a strong balanced body. Our bodies are made up of many beautifully interconnected muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, bones, organs and other tissues that we want to maintain in healthy working order. We can do individual resistance training exercises to train us to be strong but we can also incorporate many of these movements into our lives.
I personally enjoy resistance training to keep my muscles strong and balanced. I do in this in my basement with weights, body weight and resistance bands. However, there are times of year that much of my activity comes from yard work. My main outdoor activities that encompass all the functional movements are whole-body activities of gardening and preparing firewood. Gardening can involve all the movements pulling my wagon around with soil, rocks and plants, pulling on weeds, digging with my shovel, bending over, which can include squatting and lunging. When I bring firewood into the house it consists of loading it onto a sled, this involves bending over, twisting, squatting and lunging; pulling the sled to the house and then loading the wood into the house.
Tips to increase your strength:
- Take a look at your regular activities and household chores and find ways to incorporate the functional movements into your life. Look and feel to see if there are muscles on your body that are really weak from under-use or imbalanced?
- Try to find an activity that you will stick with that you enjoy, such as gardening.
- If you want to do a more structured routine or really need some motivation, there are lots of resources on the internet, I personally like Cathe Friedrich for great home workouts (some equipment required) and http://evolvefunctionalfitness.com (no equipment required).
I really couldn’t resist putting in a short section about High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). If you really want to do some more intense activity than walking and being active throughout the day but are short on time or space, try HIIT.
High Intensity Interval Training has been very popular for the last few years; it is a fun and effective way to improve your fitness (aerobic & anaerobic), body composition (preserves muscle tissue) and health (good for your metabolism).
High-intensity interval training alternates periods of high-intensity exercise at 90-100% maximal heart rate with rest periods where you partially recover. Then you keep repeating the cycle until you have completed the workout. Sounds complicated? It is really simple and the shortest versions are about 10 minutes and including warm up and cool down. I have done versions of HIIT in an office, motel room, gardens & parks as well as during walks, bicycling, climbing stairs and dancing around the house to music. Check out these links for more information:
In order to lose and/or maintain weight and good health, physical activity is really important. You do not have to “workout” to achieve this, movement and physical activity can be incorporated into your life quite easily. This can also help reduce stress levels and improve sleep which are also important when losing weight, see Part 3 of this series.
Ten quick and easy ways to be more active (without working out)
- If you are sitting watching television or working at the computer set yourself a timer, for example every 25 minutes get up and move around for five minutes. Walk around in the commercials, walk, squat, lunge, just move! This way you can get 10 minutes of movement an hour.
- Put some of your favourite music and jump or dance around for a song or two.
- Stand up and move around when you are talking on the phone.
- Do some manual work or projects such as housework, vacuuming, sweeping, scrubbing, gardening, yardwork, home maintenance etc.
- Increase your transportation related physical activity such as walking or biking to destinations or park your car in a central location and walk to your required location.
- If you have a dog, take it out for a walk or an extra walk. They will thank you too.
- Go for a walk at lunchtime with a coworker or friend, have a walking meeting.
- Find ways to add high intensity bursts of activity into regular activities.
- Incorporate all seven functional movements into your everyday activities: push, pull, squat, lunge, hinge, rotation, gait.
- Find a fun activity at home or in your own neighbourhood like making your own obstacle course, exploring your neighbourhood, go to a park and play, do a scavenger hunt, walk or bike on a local trail, garden. Use as much of your body as you can.