If you’d rather go in for a root canal than exercise, you’re not alone. According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 18.7 percent of women are getting enough exercise.
Whether it’s lack of time, money or interest, the thought of structured exercise is a non-starter for many people. But what about the documented health benefits of regular physical activity if you’re not a gym person? The key word here is “activity” – and an active lifestyle can provide many of the benefits of traditional exercise at a gym, class or with a trainer.
Adding more movement to your day is a learned behavior, one we all embraced as children. Many of us outgrew that at some point in our lives, but it’s easy to re-learn this habit with a little focus.
Set the bar low to start – some activity is always better than none at all. Fight the impulse that it’s “not enough to matter” because all activity does matter when it comes to better health. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that most adults get 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. That’s about 20 minutes a day of walking. (And while you can drop that number to 75 minutes a week with vigorous activity, it’s not a better way to go if you can’t stick with it).
And even if you do enjoy a workout at the gym, you can still incorporate these activities for an added boost.
Here’s a starter list for 10 easy ways to begin. Start with one or two activities – and build on them, once you’ve made them a daily habit.
1. Get more steps in your day.
Find any way that works for you to get extra steps throughout the day. Park further away from your destination, walk around while you talk on the phone or just take a mindful, 10-minute walk a few times a day.
2. Take the stairs.
You’ve heard this before, but it works!The incline of a flight of stairs is a good workout for your heart and your legs. Even a few flights is a plus. Get out of the elevator a floor or two before your destination. Walk up an escalator, or skip it for the stairs.
3. Swap out your chair for an exercise ball (or get an inflatable exercise cushion for your chair).
Sitting on a ball is good for your core strength (back and stomach) and balance. If you don’t want to swap out your chair, buy an exercise cushion for your chair that serves a similar purpose.
4. Sit up straight.
Good posture is a key feature of core strength. This is a tough one to do consistently, but worth it. Whether you’re sitting, standing or walking, be mindful of standing up straight. Think of yourself as a marionette with a string pulling you up straight from the top of your head.
5. Be more inefficient.
Instead of optimizing your time with fewer trips up the stairs, or carrying things around, make multiple trips. For example, make a few trips from your basement washer/dryer with your clothes to your bedroom, instead of loading yourself up for a single trip.
6. Do a little cleaning.
Housework is a great way to get a bit of cardio, muscle work and flexibility. It’s not necessary to do your whole home – pick a room and vacuum and dust.
7. Stretch to reach in your cabinets or closet.
While it’s easy to grab a step stool or a tall family member, practice reaching as far as you can for an item first. It’s a great stretch for your core and helps flexibility.
8. Be a kid again.
Play with your kids or head to the park or playground. Climb the stairs of the slide or hop on the monkey bars. If you enjoyed this as a kid, you’ll still have fun.
9. When brushing your teeth, stand on one foot.
Keep your mind and body engaged, for both better balance and leg strength. Balancing on one leg while you brush. It’s a fun habit to make.
10. Try some squats whenever you sit.
Every time you sit down, you’re using the same motion as those official exercise squats – good for strengthening the muscles in your legs and butt. Every time you sit, do it slowly – you can almost feel your muscles getting stronger!
Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D. is NBC New's health editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.