February is Heart & Stroke month which serves as a reminder of the value of making healthy lifestyle changes and choices. In Canada, heart disease affects about 2.4 million adults annually and is the second leading cause of death. One easy adjustment you can make to help lower your risk is to add daily movement into your life.
There are many benefits to daily movement. And although approaches may vary, the importance of daily activity applies no matter your age.
Meeting your body’s need to move doesn't have to be a big undertaking. With a bit of planning, you can fit it into your day in many meaningful ways. And over time, these actions will ideally become healthy parts of your regular routine.
Benefits of Movement
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada offers some of the ‘why’ behind a handful of benefits to make movement part of your day.
- Dramatically lowers your risk of heart disease and stroke
- Helps prevent and control everything from high blood pressure to high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and obesity.
- It delivers added benefits, including reduced stress levels, increased energy, better sleep, and improved digestion
“You may see benefits within the first week of regular activity. For example, your blood pressure may improve and you could start to feel more energetic and relaxed,” the Foundation states. “After three months, you may experience better health, improved posture and balance, stronger muscles and bones, more confidence and a more positive outlook on life.”
Perhaps it goes without saying, but when you feel better about yourself — which is a side-effect of physical activity — it sets you up to make healthy lifestyle choices in the future. It’s also a good motivator to encourage you to avoid unhealthy activities like smoking, overeating, and drinking too much alcohol.
Exercising every day has many benefits but can be intimidating. If you set yourself up for success and ease into a daily movement routine, experts promise that the motion will be medicine.
“Almost everyone can benefit from active living,” states the Heart and Stroke Foundation. “If you have arthritis or osteoporosis, physical activity is extremely important to keep you mobile. If you’ve already had a heart attack, becoming active may help to prevent another one. And people over 65 with poor mobility who engage in muscle and bone-strengthening activities can enhance their balance and prevent falls.”
Tips to Build Daily Movement into Your Day
Ever heard the question — what’s the best way to eat an elephant? “one bite at a time.”
That old saying is often trotted out as a wise way to approach a daunting task. No, it doesn’t recommend anyone eat an elephant. But it does suggest breaking down big or overwhelming tasks into smaller pieces will increase your chances of success.
That certainly applies to adding activity to your day and making it a seamless part of your waking hours. Rather than carving out a specific time to work out or plan something outrageous like a half marathon at lunch, add some realistic activity level to your day.
Here’s some hacks from Mayo Clinic Health System that work for people whether they’re working full-time, stay-at-home parents or retirees. Find out what fits your life, and give it a try.
- Use a standing desk when possible
- Set a reminder to stand and move at least once per hour
- Take a walk over lunch
- Walk or pace during phone or conference calls
- Forget rockstar parking. Park your car far from store entrances forcing you to walk
- Skip the elevator and use the stairs
- Walk around your house when doing routine tasks like brushing your teeth
- Take your dog for long walks daily
- Walk on a treadmill while watching TV. Or if you have a stationary bike, use that
- Do yard work, such as mowing your lawn, raking leaves or planting flowers
The sweet spot is about 30 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic physical activity per day, but it doesn't need to be non-stop. Rather than doing it all at once, you can do ten minutes or more at a time throughout the day until you reach that daily total.
The mantra, some is better than none, certainly applies when it comes to tapping into the benefits of movement for your health. Start with what’s comfortable for you and build from there.