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Health and fitness without equipment: getting more exercise while you're doing something else

Updated on January 12, 2011

We all know we need to keep active for the sake of health and fitness. It is hard to avoid all the messages that tout daily exercise or urge us to buy into some kind of fitness plan. Suppose we do not have time to join a gym, break out exercise videos, or even go for a walk every day. How can we exercise under those circumstances? Accumulate minutes. It doesn't matter if you have no exercise equipment. You don't need it to follow these suggestions.

The Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health recommends that everyone accumulate thirty minutes of moderate intense activity every day or almost every day. "Accumulate" means that we don't have to do it all at once. "Moderate intensity" means that we begin to feel warm and slightly out of breath as we're doing it. You can conscientiously work toward total body fitness even without a formal daily exercise program.

It's not practical to think of doing one minute of moderately intense activity thirty times a day. It takes more than a minute to get the heart-rate up far enough to count. But it is practical to add five or ten minutes of physical activity several times a day. Be very intentional about it, and you can you can enhance your health and fitness without completely changing your daily routine.

Most people spend most of the day either at home or at work. We can achieve the greatest improvements to health and fitness by making adjustments there. Most of us also spend time shopping or otherwise doing things somewhere else besides home or work. It should be a simple matter to apply the same principles that help enhance total body fitness to what we can do in these other places.

Exercise at home

Total body fitness, of course, requires attention to what you eat and balanced daily exercise. Balanced exercise means attention to aerobic training, resistance (weight) training, and stretching. How can we work the various kinds of exercise into what we do around the house as a matter of course?

Do you have stairs in your home? Go up and down them at every opportunity. Now, I have always done that without intending to. Wherever I am, something I want--my glasses, my shoes, my pencil--is bound to be somewhere else, likely as not upstairs or downstairs.

Once it dawned on me that my inefficiency was giving me daily exercise opportunity, I stopped getting upset with myself. Now, I will deliberately carry groceries, trash, reading material, or whatever up or down in two or more trips even if I am capable of holding it all at once. Stair climbing is a kind of aerobic exercise. Carrying something moderately heavy up the stairs adds an element of weight training--especially if we don't just carry it, but lift it or curl it or otherwise move it around as we walk.

Whether you have stairs or not, you don't always have to walk normally from room to room. March instead; make sure to lift your knees to about waist level. If you've ever marched in a band, you know you have to pace yourself to go five yards  in eight steps. You get better exercise by marching than by ordinary walking for just a little more time.

Or, for a variation, do walking lunges. Do one lunge, lift the back foot in front of  you and immediately walk into another  lunge on the other foot. Keep it up till you get where you're going. Don't worry if it feels or looks silly. You're working on health and fitness. Whether marching or lunging, carrying something moderately heavy enhances the effect.

Do you watch television? Don't just sit there or lie there on the couch. At least during commercial breaks, get up and march in place or do any other kind exercise: jumping jacks, lunges (including lateral lunges), pushups, sit-ups, crunches, squats, any pilates or yoga moves you know, etc. It's also a good time to stretch

This article is about daily exercise without equipment, but that doesn't mean you can't use it if you have some. If you have a stability ball, sit on that during the program. In fact, once you learn a number of basic exercises with it, you can do an uninterrupted exercise routine in front of the television. The same goes for resistance bands, dumbbells, and whatever other similar equipment you might have.

Whatever housework you do, from vacuuming to gardening count toward your daily exercise. Gardening is probably strenuous enough on its own. Other activities may require some creative enhancements to turn them into exercise of moderate intensity. Use your imagination and enjoy yourself, keeping in mind the ultimate goal of total body fitness.

Exercise at work

Work used to mean manual labor for most people. Today, automation has enabled many workers to accomplish more with less physical effort. More people have desk jobs than in earlier generations. With the Internet, people with desk jobs do not have to leave their desk chairs to look up information. With email and other electronic communications, it has become easier to communicate with coworkers without every leaving the desk.   Sitting there all day is not good for anyone's body. Do not let your daily tasks consume your total attention. Health and fitness require that you move around and get exercise. Be sure to perform various stretches several times a day, look for ways to move around, and never neglect any opportunity to carry or lift something.

Can you walk to work or take your bicycle? There's some daily exercise. If you take public transportation, you can take a brisk walk to and from the bus stop or train station. If you drive, park far enough away to get a decent walk between your car and wherever you work.

If you are  physically able, always take stairs in preference to the elevator. Stairs are much better for health and fitness than elevators or escalators. If you work above the tenth floor of a building, you may be able to manage a few flights of stairs and use the elevator only part of the way up or down. After getting daily exercise this way for a while, you will be able to climb more flights.

Get up from your desk at least once an hour. Do not go to the nearest rest room or drinking fountain. Do not take the shortest or  most efficient way from anywhere to anywhere else if you're just walking by yourself--or if you can persuade a few likeminded others in your office to add steps to their routine, too.

Speaking of likeminded others, the marching and lunge walking I recommended for home might not go over well at work. It would take someone much more charismatic than I have ever worked with to get all the rest of the staff comfortable with that. But if you think you qualify, go for it! You will help improve everyone's fitness and health. If everyone acts weird together, you will all laugh together. That's a great benefit in itself.

Even if you do participate in some kind of formal exercise program, you can always add more activity to your routine. On a daily basis, look for ways intensify your activity, so that whatever you would do anyway can help you achieve total body fitness.

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