A (first) simple prescription for moving more

My goal is to help people move more. Sustainably. So that we will all be more fit, and ultimately more healthy. Or, perhaps more accurately, as healthy as we can be.

Let’s face it: with a few exceptions, we are all far too sedentary. We have used our tremendous brainpower over the centuries to devise ways to save ourselves much in terms of efforts and physical labour.

So it is only natural that I propose some ways of moving more. “About time this blog starts being useful”, you might even think!

If you are hoping for a silver bullet, a no-effort required method that has guaranteed success, you will be disappointed.

If you are hoping for a simple way to make a big difference, well, then, there is hope. But it requires some effort nevertheless.

I’d like to propose a first tookit, a prescription of sort, to get moving more:

1) Move every hour.

Whether at work or at home, we tend to sit way more than is healthy. What you should do is 10 minutes of moving for every 50 of sitting. At least 5 minutes, if you think 10 is too much. The moving part does not need to be very dynamic. Go for a walk on your floor, or around the block. Do some squats and some push-ups. Or take the stairwell and go up one floor, then back down. The key is to not spend hours on end without moving. Getting that blood to flow a little faster will help your overall productivity. Also, the mental break of switching away from what you are doing does wonder for idea generation and clarification…

2) Take the stairs.

I warned you (if you read my previous post), but this theme will keep coming back. Stairs are great. Stairs are your friends. Really. Whenever there are escalators, don’t take them. Whenever you “must” take an elevator, get off a floor or two higher or lower than where you are going, and walk some stairs. There’s a big opportunity for daily, quality moving, in just making that slight tweak to your habits. It really doesn’t take that much longer, and the payoff is substantial.

3) Walk more.

Whether you commute by car or public transit, a long distance or a short one, a change to your habits to include more walking will make a huge difference. Get off a stop (or more) sooner than you usually do and walk the rest of the way. Park your car at a farther (and perhaps less expensive) parkade and walk from there. If you normally drive but could take public transit, consider switching to the already more physically demanding method. The key thing is to include some systematic walking in your normal habits on a daily basis.

4) Do something with your muscles every day.

This is more tricky because it conjures up images of body building and going to the gym. But, in fact, although it is the more difficult part to add to your daily routine, it has great potential and does not require that much of an effort. I’m a big fan of the “7-Minute Workout” which aims to get your most important muscle groups to work a little more than most of us are unfortunately used to in our sedentary lifestyle. Restoring muscle tone means increasing your base metabolism, and immediately helping with your overall ability to deal with daily demands put on your body by the rest of your activities.

That’s it. For now.

I’ll get back to this topic frequently, offering more advice and tricks, and explaining the numerous benefits. But there you have it. Already enough to make a big difference…

A neat idea for moving more

Wanna know how to get moving more without breaking the bank, and without breaking (much of) a sweat?

Over the course of writing this blog, I’ll provide as many ideas as I can. Much of it will not be news to you. But some ideas, I hope, will be practical enough, and you will adopt them.

This first one did not originate from me. My wife told me this is what they do at the hospital where she works. I think it is a fantastic idea for getting yourself moving more, and getting more people around you to do the same.

Here it is:

In a stairwell between two of the main levels in a Boston hospital (not to be too specific), there are sign-up sheets for the “stairwell club”. Basically, when you enter the stairwell, you sign your name, and when you get to the other level, you sign on the other sheet there.

That way, anyone can become part of the “club”: all it takes for someone to go up (or down, of course) at least once. Presumably, the more you do it, the more you name is going to be on the sheets, and the more it might get noticed…

Now, I’m a big fan of stairs. Scratch that: I’m a HUGE fan of stairs. I use them as much as I can, everywhere. It frustrates me when I get some place and I can’t find, or use, the stairwells (not to mention it is a security issue, so it is always good to know where they are). I’ll talk about stairs repeatedly on this blog.

It is THE perfect exercise you can do without actually doing “exercise”. It works your biggest muscle groups (glutes, quads, hamstrings) and is pretty good cardio if you do enough of them in a row. But even if you do just a little at a time, not enough to break a sweat, you still get benefits. To top it all off, it works almost as well whether you are going up, or down.

So if you are willing to start doing stairs and are really out of shape, you can start by going down. Resistive work (using the muscle strength against the direction of movement, precisely like going down a stair) is actually better for muscle tone and strength, while the overall demand is less due to the gravity assist. You cannot lose by doing stairs that way.

What’s really neat about this idea of a “stairwell club” is that you don’t need to gather people and organize it: it will organize itself. Just prepare the sign-up sheets and post them. Don’t ask for permission. Don’t worry if the sign-up sheets get taken down by the cleaning staff: just put up new ones. And then watch what happens.

Who knows, you might get to meet like-minded folks in your building. You might get some help with the club, or spark a bit of friendly competition to see whose name is most visible on the sheets…

The way I see it, for fitness, stairs have no downside!

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Photo from Pixabay.

Aim to be an Everyday Athlete

The timing for this blog could hardly be better, what with the Olympic Games in full swing…

For a while now, I had been meaning to write about a principle I firmly believe in:

We should all aim to be athletes.

But a particular kind of athlete: an Everyday Athlete!

This idea is an important part of why I created No-brainer Fitness, and why I started blogging about fitness. Simply put: every single one of us has the potential to be very active everyday. This is biological fact, due to our animal nature. We’ve just forgotten it.

To be sure, most of us cannot hope to achieve the levels of performance of the men and women currently competing in Sochi. Or of top Ironman finishers and elite marathoners. Or to become as muscular as Arnie in his prime.

Yet despite radically different amounts of training and undeniable differences in base talent and potential between, say, an Olympian and the next person you meet on the street, in fact we all have tremendous potential for physical activity. The differences are big enough to justify having only a small minority of “athletes” and a large population of “spectators”.

If all of us were more active, we would surely uncover a lot more exceptional athletes, and thus have even more exciting sporting events. But that’s not the intention. Instead, we should all be more active in general, seek more opportunities to move (walk, run, bike, swim, push stuff, pull stuff, lift stuff, throw stuff, you get the idea, just be careful where or at whom you throw stuff…); basically, spend less time watching, and more time doing.

I have seen enough couch potatoes become runners and triathletes already in my short career as a running and triathlon coach to confirm this to be the truth. I already felt it in my bones; I am now completely, positively, absolutely certain of it.

As evidence, I offer the immense popularity of running races, cycling events, and triathlons. Participation in marathons has never been more popular, and it has become a sport in its own right to register for most Ironman races because of the demand (many races sell out in an hour, a year before the actual race is scheduled to take place).

Some of the runners at the 2013 ING New York Marathon

Some of the runners at the 2013 ING New York Marathon

Don’t for a moment imagine that all those runners and triathletes are elite competitors. The vast majority of those participants are NOT trying to win. They are doing it for themselves. More and more people are realizing that “competing” in such events is really more about improving their own fitness level, being more healthy, and going beyond their perceived limits. (Also, you get cool t-shirts and finishers’ medals, but I digress.)

Yet their achievements are showing the way forward, and are worthy of praise. At those races, typically, there are no prouder finishers than those who finish last, because they have typically come a really long way to get there.

I am not saying everyone should run marathons. By all means, run if you like to run! More importantly, and to the point: do what activities you enjoy, frequently.  In general, use your body as much as possible every day. Because that’s what your body needs, and deserves.

An Everyday Athlete is a person who thinks of his or her body as the body of an athlete, and gives it what an athlete’s body needs: a lot of physical activity, good food, good rest, repeated every day…

So aim higher, faster, longer, because ’tis the season for it, and instead of watching the games, aim to be an Everyday Athlete.

Photo by Sacha Veillette (taken at the 2013 ING New York Marathon)

What it’s all about…

At the end of the introductory series of posts, I left the subject of fitness by defining it as “sustainable activity”.

That’s fine, but how do we achieve a level of activity that is sustainable? How do we get fit so that we can go about our daily activities without difficulty, and deal with occasional peaks of demands on our bodies like work stress, viral infections, running out of gas with our cars, etc.?

If you expect me to say there is a big secret that I’m the only one to know, you are going to be disappointed. A lot of people know about this.

If you expect me to say there is no silver bullet, and that it is very difficult, you are also going to be disappointed. Because it is something so simple that it is, practically, a silver bullet.

It’s a no-brainer, really. (Would you have expected anything else from this blog?) And here it is:

We need to move more.

A lot more.

A lot more than what the vast majority of our modern population is now used to doing.

Our bodies are meant to move. The stress and strain imposed on our bodies by moving, be it walking or swimming or taking a heavy object from one place and putting it somewhere else, is the prime stimulus that causes our muscles to develop (or recover), and our bones to remain (or become again) denser.

It is movement and its accompanying increase in blood flow that helps increase heart rate variability, and keep blood pressure in a normal range.

The more you move, within reason (by which I mean without over-doing it), the better you’ll feel (and the more you’ll be able to move).

I’m paraphrasing and glossing over the mechanisms and benefits, but I think you get the point. This blog’s mission will therefore be to bring you the science behind these assertions. And to give you tips on how to get moving more.

For now, I just wanted to put the basic message “out there”:

It’s all about moving.