If you don’t currently exercise regularly, it would be wise to start. Being inactive has been shown to put a significant toll on your body's optimal functions and performance. (1) Even if you’re at a healthy weight, your body's health might not be optimal on the inside.
If you work a sedentary job, finding time to be active can be difficult. However, there are some simple changes you can make to your lifestyle to fit in more physical activity. You don’t need to start training like an Olympic athlete. Committing to making small changes can go a long way.
Here are seven ideas of habits you can change to improve your health and increase your energy.
1. Break Up Sedentary Periods with Activity
You can fight against the effects of a sedentary lifestyle on your body by breaking up your periods of inactivity with regular physical activity.
How often should you move?
A literature review published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise examined the optimal frequency of breaking up sedentary behavior. (2) The researchers concluded that taking regular physical activity breaks can improve your health.
The optimal amount of physical activity and break frequency varies between individuals. However, many organizations included the Australian Heart Association recommend breaking up stationary activity every 30 minutes.
2. Stop Watching TV in Bed
Stop doing anything in your bed that isn’t sleeping or intimacy. When you watch TV or do other activities that stimulate your brain, you may compromise your sleep quality.
Research shows that blue light emitted from screens may disrupt your circadian rhythm. Ideally, you should set up your pre-bed routine so that you avoid any bright lights before bed (even white light from light bulbs contains blue light).
You may benefit from minimizing your screen time throughout the day.
Researchers at Loma Linda University found that watching more than two hours of TV per day is associated with an increased risk of sleep problems. (3)
3. Put Your Phone Away
Researchers at UCL Institute of Child Health conducted a literature review in January 2019 to find the effect of phone usage time on various health markers. (4) The researchers found moderately strong evidence to support that high amounts of screen time increase your risk of developing greater body fat and a suboptimal mood.
The researchers also found that phone usage may have an interesting effect on your diet. Not only do higher amounts of screen time to increase your likelihood of snacking, but it also increases the chances you’ll choose less nutritious foods.
4. Stop Eating Sugary Foods
If you only make one change to your diet, you may want to consider to eliminate sugary foods. Most people who eat a Western diet consume far too much sugar in sauces, drinks, snack foods, and desserts.
Foods with significant amounts of added sugar spike your insulin levels. When you eat a high-sugar diet chronically, you may negatively affect optimal circulation, metabolism, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. (5)
The rate that carbohydrates break down in your body is called the glycemic index.
High glycemic foods like candy and desserts rapidly increase your blood sugar, which eventually causes a sugar crash. Lower glycemic carbohydrates, like whole-grains and starchy vegetables, break down slowly in your body so that your insulin levels remain relatively constant.
Here are some easy replacements you can make to improve the quality of your carbohydrates:
Brown rice instead of white rice
Fruit instead of sugary desserts
Homemade vinaigrette dressings instead of sugary dressings
Sweet potato instead of white potato
Vegetables instead of crackers or cookies
Eating too much sugar doesn’t only affect your physical health. Research published in Scientific Reports confirms that eating a high-sugar diet can have negative effects on your mental health. (6)
5. Find Types of Exercise You Enjoy
Do you cringe at the thought of exercising because you picture running or endless hours of push-ups? If you force yourself to do exercise that you don’t like, you’re unlikely to stick to it long-term.
There are so many forms of physical activity to choose from that there is no need to pick one that you hate. If you don’t like running, try swimming. If you don’t like swimming, try hiking. If hiking isn’t your thing, try dancing.
One study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health examined the effect of various intensities of exercise on the likelihood of sticking with regular activity in adolescents. (7)
The researchers found that participants were more likely to stick with lower intensity exercises that still ‘felt good’ (as opposed to maximal exertive exercise). Lower intensity exercise at about 70% of your maximum heart rate still provides many benefits.
Here is a list of exercises you might not have thought about as exercise:
Movement-based video games
6. Stay Hydrated
You probably know the importance of eating properly for maintaining your energy. However, if you don’t refuel with water, your body will become dehydrated. Dehydration causes several negative side effects, lethargy being among them. (8)
A study looking at the effect of hydration on women with a mean age of 25 found that fluid restriction can cause several negative effects that can decrease energy levels including occasional headaches, decreased alertness, increased sleepiness, and fatigue. (9)
7. Spread Your Exercise Throughout the Day
If you work out once per day, that’s better than nothing at all. However, instead of being stationary for 23 hours and hitting the gym hard for 1 hour, a more effective exercise plan is to spread your physical activity throughout the day.
Spreading your exercise throughout the day might mean going for a light jog in the morning, doing a quick 10 minute walk on your lunch break, and then hitting the gym for only 30 minutes in the evening. Research published in The Journal of Sports Sciences found that even elite athletes who are sedentary have increased body fat compared to athletes who are active throughout the day. (10)
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