Back in times when food was not always plentiful, mankind learnt to conserve energy for the things that mattered. This would include harvesting, planting, catching game and building shelters. Our bodies evolved to make the most of every calorie and to store excess as fat for the times of famine that were inevitable.
Now in the Western world in the twenty-first century, things are different. We all tend to have too many calories too easily available, and our lifestyles have become much less active. Many people earn their living sitting down, and have to spend far too long each day without moving. Result – on go the excess pounds!
As we all know, to keep weight under control it is important to get moving for half an hour or so a day, and to get the pulse rate up a few times a week. In between trips to the gym, long walks and cycle rides, there are lots of ways to build a bit more exercise into even the busiest day. Here are some quick ideas which take minimal extra time if you are organised, and will contribute to the important balance of calories in versus calories out.
In the office – if you work in a multi-storey building, there are plenty of exercise opportunities around. Make it a rule never to use the lift, take the stairs. Use the toilets two floors away; it doesn’t take that much longer to get there and will add more steps to your daily count. Stand up when you take or make a phone call (remember to keep your voice down!) and if you are using a mobile, walk out of the open-plan area into a corridor or an unused room. That way you get away from other people (we all tend to shout down mobile phones) and also stretch your legs.
At the shops – moving the car repeatedly is really heavy on petrol, so think about where to park and make it your goal that the car does not move while you do your errands in the town. If you end up carrying too much, return to the car and unload (but don’t leave anything valuable there). The extra distance all gives extra exercise. Of course if you can shop on foot, do so – take a rucksack and you can carry more, or perhaps fit a carrier or a trailer to your bicycle? Extra shopping trips are not an environmental problem if you do them without using a car. Even if the trip is just to the supermarket, take the long way round the shop. Some supermarkets are big enough for you to walk quite a way with your trolley!
At home – if you have stairs, it is easy to get lazy, and equally easy to get more exercise. Go up and down stairs more than you need, take a few minutes to do some step ups (careful – always at the bottom of the flight!) and use the bottom step to stretch out tight tendons. Some vigorous housework burns calories; we don’t suggest you go back to pounding the washing by hand, but pushing and lifting vacuum cleaners is good for the arms, as is dusting. If you want to do a bit more for the arms, grab a couple of tins of beans and use them as light toning weights. The garden is also a great keep-fit aid; pushing a lawnmower, bending and stretching to do the weeding or hoeing the vegetable patch all help to tone the muscles.
On the school run – if your work allows and if school is less than a kilometre or two away (or more if you have time), then walking with the kids will get you all some exercise and probably be quicker than sitting in a traffic jam. If you need to be somewhere else and can’t do this, see if you can set up a rota with other parents or add your children to a ‘walking bus’. That way you can go for a brisk walk or a quick jog before getting in the car. Repeat for the evening trip and get some time to chat to the children, or even stop off for some fun at the playground!
At the weekend - here’s where the fun starts! If the plan includes a pub lunch on a sunny lawn, find a pub that you can walk to on a pleasant route. Children over about eight years old should be able to walk at least four miles, so no excuses there. While alcohol is just empty calories, if you have walked to the pub you have an excuse for treating yourself to a ‘small one’ with no worries about driving afterwards. Plan your outings to include some exercise; for example, go for a brisk walk rather than idling round the shops, go cycling rather than sitting in the cinema or swim some lengths rather than chatting in the spa! If you are visiting the gym, walk or cycle there if you can, or park further away to add some bonus exercise.
Building small and gradual changes into your lifestyle is the way to long-term fitness and health, and the whole family will feel the benefit. Enjoy!