Keeping an active lifestyle is an important part of staying healthy. Staying active helps reduce the risk for conditions like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and it can help improve brain health and cognitive function as we age.
This doesn’t have to mean running weekend marathons or following a daily weight-lifting routine. Improving your health by staying active can involve things like maintaining a healthy weight, getting your heart rate up during exercise, and increasing natural movement during your day, from walking to housework to gardening. Finding an activity that you enjoy is key ‒ whether it’s going on hikes, swimming laps at the local pool, or attending yoga classes with friends. The end goal is to get your body moving more often.
A study from the World Health Organization found that 80% of people worldwide don’t achieve the recommended amount of exercise each week. The lack of exercise in your routine can be an indication that you have a sedentary lifestyle.
Active Lifestyle vs. Sedentary Lifestyle
If you’re sitting for most of every day, you’re probably living a sedentary lifestyle. More and more data have revealed that living this way – getting little to no exercise, combined with indulging in junk food and/or drinking too much alcohol – can shorten your life span. The sedentary lifestyle is often associated with adverse health effects sometimes known as the “sitting disease.”
The Mayo Clinic explains that “research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns, including obesity and a cluster of conditions ‒ increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels ‒ that make up metabolic syndrome.” Sitting for too long and too frequently can also increase the risk of death from certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.
Benefits of Leading an Active Lifestyle
Besides weight loss, there are many physical (and mental) health benefits to leading an active lifestyle, including:
Stronger muscles and bones. When you exercise regularly, your bones adapt to the extra stress by becoming denser and therefore stronger. Your muscles act much the same way: Each time you exercise, small tears form in your muscle fibers. When you’re resting, these tears heal, and the resulting scar tissue strengthens the muscles.
Prevention of chronic disease. Physical activity can help lower your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. Exercise has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, and strengthen your heart muscle, all of which can fend off chronic disease.
Higher serotonin levels. Improved mood is one of the effects from exercise you can feel almost immediately. Exercise is known to increase serotonin levels, helping better regulate your mood. It also sparks the release of endorphins – hormones in the brain that promote feelings of happiness and well-being. This phenomenon is often called the runner’s high.
A stronger immune system. Exercise increases blood flow, allowing immune cells to perform more effectively. It’s also been shown to reduce stress and inflammation, both of which can leave your body more vulnerable to disease and infection.
Five Ways to Lead an Active Lifestyle
1. Walk or bike ‒ to work, to the grocery store, to a friend’s house
Walking and biking are both relatively easy, low-impact exercises that you can incorporate into your days! Not only is this better for the environment, but it will benefit your physical health immensely, swapping the time you’d be in your car for more time moving your body (and spending time outside, weather permitting).
2. Use a standing desk
Most of us sit while at work, especially when in an office or working from home. Sitting burns fewer calories per hour than standing does (80 calories and 88 calories, respectively) ‒ and standing while working allows you to stretch out muscles in your back and hips, which can help alleviate the lower back pain that’s common with sitting. You don’t have to opt for an expensive standing desk; stacking boxes or books can help raise your workstation up to standing level.
3. Do daily morning stretches
Stretching can help loosen your muscles and ease stress, and doing morning stretches (instead of immediately reaching for your phone) is a great way to start your day. Most doctors and personal trainers will recommend stretching after a workout (which is important), but gentle morning stretches are different from the dynamic stretching of a post-workout cooldown. Morning stretches involve loosening up your body from sleep, whereas dynamic stretches cool down the muscles you’ve used during rigorous exercise. Stretching in the morning also gives you the opportunity to focus on breath work and clear your mind for the day ahead.
4. Attend fitness classes with friends
Going to fitness classes alone can be intimidating, but having friends by your side for motivation and moral support can alleviate any anxiety you may be feeling. Taking group classes with friends also makes you accountable and can keep you on track when it comes to your fitness goals.
5. Start a weight-training regimen
Weight training serves as a complement to regular, low-impact cardio. Also referred to as strength training or resistance training, weight training improves muscle strength, bone density, and stability ‒ all good things, especially as you age and movement naturally decreases. Regular strength or resistance training is good for people of all ages and fitness levels, and can especially benefit people with chronic health issues, like obesity, arthritis, or heart conditions.
Tips for Leading and Maintaining an Active Lifestyle
Some activity is better than no activity at all. Try an exercise class with friends, take a walk during your lunch break, or follow an on-demand or online routine from a trusted influencer. If you want to introduce more exercise into your routine but don’t know where to begin, working with a trainer or Health Coach can help you get started.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle of everyday life and forget to stay hydrated (and no, coffee doesn’t count). Adding fruit for a sweet infusion can also help you keep hydrated if you’re not too fond of the taste of plain water, and keeping a water bottle by you at all times can serve as a helpful reminder to drink up!
Set realistic goals
Setting goals and sticking to them is an important part of leading an active lifestyle. This is especially true if you’re actively trying to lose weight or hit a specific fitness goal by a certain date. Many people set lofty, unrealistic goals for themselves and end up running out of steam before they can achieve them. Try using the S.M.A.R.T. method of goal setting when it comes to your physical activity levels. Keep your goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
Mix it up
Just as you’re likely to get bored doing the same routine day in and day out, your body is, too. Following the same routine is great when you’re beginning your journey, but your body will adapt and you’ll likely no longer see as many benefits as quickly. This is called a plateau, and it can be remedied by simply adding new exercises to your routine, changing where you work out, or increasing the weight or duration of the exercises you’re doing.
Keep it cheap
Working out doesn’t have to be expensive. If you can’t swing the price of a gym membership, no worries! The Internet offers tons of free or extremely inexpensive workout tips, routines, meal plans, and advice for getting started. If you don’t have equipment to use at home, do body-weight exercises or use items around your house as dumbbells. Safety is key, though ‒ make sure you know how to do certain exercises with proper form and how to use certain equipment before implementing a fitness routine.
The Bottom Line
Keeping an active lifestyle is one of the most important things you can do for your health and well-being. Getting started is the hardest part – once you begin, you’ll likely find yourself asking what took you so long! Remember to start small, and over time, you can progress to create an active lifestyle that works for you.
If you’re unsure of where to begin, working with a personal trainer or Health Coach can set you on the right path. These wellness professionals can help you determine where you need lifestyle adjustments and can recommend how to address any concerns you have.
Before beginning any new exercise regimen, consult your doctor to make sure it’s appropriate for your current physical condition and won’t aggravate any existing medical conditions.