Are You an Active Couch Potato? Why Your Daily Workout May Not Be Enough

By Janice Enloe, personal trainer and running coach, RUN Oak Park and Weights and Measures

If you are among the 48% of Americans who meet the current physical activity guidelines, give yourself a pat on the back. Exercise has become part of your lifestyle — for at least 150 minutes a week. That neatly breaks down to 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day, five days a week.

We know that exercise can improve health — both physical and mental. Active people live longer and have lower risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression and some cancers. And of course, exercise is an integral piece of the weight control puzzle.

Make that a quick pat on the back, though, because I have another question for you: What are you doing with the other 23.5 hours of the day? If you are working at a computer, watching television, commuting — the time you spend exercising may not be sufficient to offset the effects of sitting for hours. You may be an active couch potato.

According to a new position paper by the American College of Sports Medicine, sedentary behavior is a distinct health risk, separate from getting too little exercise. According to Carol Ewing Garber, Ph.D., chair of the ACSM writing committee, “It is no longer enough to consider whether an individual engages in adequate amounts of weekly exercise. We also need to determine how much time a person spends in sedentary pursuits, like watching television or working on a computer.”

And, the effects just get worse as we age. A recent study of 2,286 adults 60 years and older found the odds of disability in activities of daily living were 46% greater for each hour spent in sedentary behavior. Those adults, on average, spent a whopping nine waking hours sitting.

While the exact amount of activity needed to offset the active couch potato effect isn’t clear yet, experts recommend breaking up prolonged sitting time as often as possible. Simply standing up and moving around more is a great place to begin. Here are four ideas for building more activity into your day.

  1. Make your daily commute more active. Cycling to work burns calories instead of gasoline but if your commute is too far, consider biking to the train. The Village offers bike racks at most CTA stations and fully enclosed, weatherproof bike lockers at the intermodal CTA/Union Pacific station on North Boulevard at Marion Street. Find a handy map of bicycle parking racks here: http://www.oak-park.us/our-community/bicycling-oak-park.
  2. Walk it off. At 4.5 square miles, almost every Oak Park hotspot is within walking distance. A Saturday morning visit to the Farmers’ Market can easily turn into an architecture tour. Walk to one of Downtown Oak Park’s restaurants and include an after dinner stroll through Austin Gardens or Lindberg Park.
  3. Why should kids have all the fun? Springtime is baseball and soccer season in Oak Park. You may not want to miss a single minute of the game but rather than planting yourself in the bleachers during practice or warm ups, take a few laps around the field or along the sidelines.
  4. One step at a time. If your 15-item grocery order has ended up in 15 bags, bring them from the car into the house one bag at a time. You’ll add steps, stair climbs and heavy lifting to your day — and that sounds a lot like exercise!

We don’t know yet how much couch time is okay. But the research seems to clearly support frequent movement breaks as a way to offset the adverse effects of our sedentary, modern lives. So, get up, get moving, and stay healthy.

Photo by Flickr user dazza chazza