Conventional advice on how to improve, or actually maintain, our mental and physical health includes recommendations for consistent exercise. Such physical activity would ideally include aerobic exercise to increase heart rate, as well as routines to maintain or increase muscle mass. We should get 150 minutes of exercise a week and according to several studies we can possibly achieve this with short bursts of physical activity, 20 minutes or less.
In such a study, 20 minutes of intense training promoted certain cognitive functions, such as attention. The duration of the exercise was 20 minutes, but it should be noted that it was designed to increase the heart rate and was intense. In another study, elderly sedentary adults who exercised at moderate intensity for 10 minutes three times daily showed improvement in their cardiovascular function.
In fact, the courage for short intervals of physical activity has generated a form of training where you train as intensely as you can, in syringes lasting 30 seconds to three minutes. It is called “HIIT” or high-intensity interval training. Once you have recovered, which means that your breathing and your heart rate are lowered to manageable levels, you repeat the exercise.
But what exercise physiologists seem to refer to when discussing the benefits of short intervals of physical activity is anyone activity that gets the body going. The goal is to create easy, comfortable and excuse-resistant opportunities for otherwise sedentary people to move – to participate in any form of physical activity. And to suggest that this can only be done for minutes at a time seems to make it so much easier to do than taking an hour-long yoga class or walking fast on a treadmill for 30 minutes five times a week. The psychology behind this approach seems to accept that many sedentary people will not suddenly throw on their workout clothes (if they have any), get a membership in a nearby gym or Yoga or Pilates studio, or buy an expensive home exercise bike or treadmill. Telling them that they should do any of the above will be ignored. But to mention that physical activity that lasts only a few minutes but is repeated many times during the waking hours could improve fitness and even support the weight loss effort could work.
How to do this can be found in any traditional weight loss book with a chapter on exercise:
- Go up stairs instead of using mechanized means to climb up.
- Carry groceries into the house one bag at a time.
- Take short walks as many times as possible during the day.
- Bend down, stand, bend down, take up and reach high. (Maybe dust these curtain rods?)
- If zoning and weather permit, go outside and hang your sheets on a clothesline, but carrying the laundry up two stairs because the washer and dryer are in the basement also meets the criterion of household-based physical activity.
Additional options for exercise include getting a dog with short legs because you have to bend over or squat to put on the leash. Daily refilling of the feed in many bird feeders also qualifies because it may require you to bend down to take the bird feed out of the bag and then reach up to put it in the feeder. During the winter months, one trains a number of muscles by shoveling snow, tiling away at ice-covered steps and brushing the snow off bushes and the mailbox.
As I read through these suggestions, memories of my grandmother popped up. My father was the eldest of four, and his mother was a still relatively young woman when I used to live with her as a child. Her daily routines met the criteria for frequent bouts of physical activity, and her muscular arms and endurance were the result. She hand-chopped fish and meat for felted fish and meatballs, spent hours rolling strudel dough on her long dining table, hanging the laundry outside, and ironing the bedding with a heavy iron. When she went shopping for food, which was almost every day, she dragged heavy bags home and went up two stairs with the bundles dangling from her arms. She had neither an electric vacuum cleaner nor a robot to take care of crumbs on the carpet. She had an old-fashioned rug sweeper that she pushed across the rugs. And if someone she knew was sick or unable to cook for their family, my grandmother made a meal, packed it up, took one or two buses, and then went to the home where the food was needed. She did not perceive that her daily physical activity was a form of exercise. That was what she had to do to take care of her family.
We are obviously not going back to the lifestyle of those who lived 75 or 100 years ago to get healthier. But it is important to realize that there must be suggestions on how we can increase our physical activity because so many of us are not even aware of how sedentary we are. We have become insensitive to our reliance on amenities that eliminate the need to relocate. We’re annoyed because we can not find our cell phone and have to walk around the house looking for it. We do not bother to go to stores to buy necessities because we can sit at a desk and order what we need and have the goods delivered in a few days. If we live in a house, we try to have our washer and dryer near the bedrooms so we do not have to go to another floor to wash our laundry. We use leaf blowers rather than a rake to gather leaves in the fall, and a snow thrower or a hired snow plow driver to clean our driveway. And getting up from a chair or bed to change channels on our TV is as archaic as using a rotary phone. The only thing we tend to spend energy on is trying to remove the lid from a jar; our wrists can be strengthened by the effort.
So we have to find ways to insert the physical activity that characterized a now distant generation back into our lives. Taking care of children, pets and relatives with disabilities costs a lot of physical activity, especially if dogs and children are young. A friend whose husband’s stroke made him unable to dress or walk without help told me that some nights she feels as if she’s been training for hours because of the energy she needs. to help his spouse. But work, especially if it requires sitting at a desk, displaces much of the time we could spend moving. And if our hours at work are very long, even if the work is done at home, there may be too little time for frequent activity attacks.
The solution to getting enough physical activity by performing household chores is not reliable for many people. Unlike my grandmother’s generation, most of the physical activity associated with household chores these days is minimal and is unlikely to increase one’s respiratory rate or heart rate. Even though these tasks make us tug and breathe for a few seconds, are they then enough to move us from unfit to fit?
As we get older, we lose muscle mass and experience a decrease in endurance. Exercise is the only way to maintain our muscle mass and endurance and ideally increase these measurements of physical fitness. As the Red Queen says to Alice in Alice in Wonderland: “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you want to go somewhere, run twice as fast as that. “Will the amount of physical activity represented by short rounds of household chores be sufficient to achieve these goals?
My grandmother had a long life, especially for her generation, and as far as I know she did not suffer from fragile bones, balance problems or muscle loss. So maybe mimicking her lifestyle might be a suitable replacement for working out in the gym. But it may be too early to say; Long-term studies are needed to see if such levels of physical activity are adequate for those who may be vulnerable to impaired bone health and muscle loss.