A few years ago, the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” was first heard around the world. In fact, in two sentences, Dr. James Levine shocked most everyone by stating: “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.” Naturally that sounds pretty alarming, but the good news is that it’s also easy to remedy – we are built to move and be incredibly active! That’s why I feel it’s important to explore and share some information about exercise, beginning with endurance and cardiovascular health. Although there are lots of ways to contribute to improved fitness and health, such as working on strength, balance and flexibility (which we will explore in future blogs), discussing how to enhance our endurance and overall cardiovascular health is a great place to start.
The benefits of endurance exercise
Also called aerobic exercise, endurance exercise includes activities that increase your breathing and heart rate such as walking, jogging, swimming, and biking. Endurance activity keeps our heart, lungs and circulatory system healthy and improves our overall fitness. As a result, people who get the recommended regular physical activity can reduce the risk of many diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. If those weren’t great enough reasons, there are still many more benefits to regular cardio activity, just some of which include:
- improved mental health and focus
- better sleep
- more energy
- improved confidence
- enhanced social life or team/group involvement – depending on the activity
- …and finally, calorie burning and weight loss, which for some people is an important motivator
So, knowing that most of us are aware of the great reasons to exercise, why is it so hard to get moving and keep moving? In Canada, we are experiencing an obesity epidemic, which has serious impacts not only on people’s health, but on our health care system too. Because we have more sedentary lifestyles, we commute more, and frankly, there’s a LOT of great television, sports and video games to enjoy, we are increasingly glued to our seats, making us super inactive. A study by Stats Canada has shown that adults in Canada are only meeting 15% of the recommended 150 minutes of “moderate-to-vigorous physical activity” per week. So, instead of 30 minutes 5 days per week, the average Canadian is getting 22.5 minutes of exercise per week, which isn’t very much at all. The big question for many is simply…but where do I start?
The start line
Regular endurance activity is not the same as tackling our chores or enjoying some leisure time. For example, a lot of people feel that grocery shopping, gardening, bowling or golfing count as a workout. Although those definitely keep us active and it’s always great to be productive and moving (and highly preferred over sitting), unless we have an elevated heart rate for the entire time and break a decent sweat, it can’t count as “moderate to vigorous” exercise. It’s just not the type of workout that our hearts and bodies need to see real, lasting effects. This doesn’t mean we have to sign up for an expensive gym membership or set up an elaborate workout space, but it does mean that we need to do more, and bust a sweat. It’s also important to pick things you enjoy doing so that it never feels like work. Here are some fun ways to get started:
- Running – you don’t have to start too aggressively. Begin with a fast walk and slowly incorporate a minute or two of running into each walk.
- Dancing – I don’t have the opportunity to go out dancing nearly as much as I would like (which is too bad because I’ve got some mean moves), but I do enjoy it when the opportunity presents itself and it is an excellent aerobic workout.
- Swimming – again, start slowly and add a lap or two every week. This is also a great workout for people with joint, pain, or mobility issues.
- Cycling – whether this means riding your bike to work, hitting some trails, or joining a cycling club, it’s not only good for us, but great for the environment too.
- Sports – a game of basketball, hockey, soccer, ultimate frisbee, lacrosse, tennis, etc., is not only enjoyable, but really gets the heart pumping (and these are great social activities!).
- Fitness centres/home gyms – elliptical trainers, treadmills, exercise bikes, fitness classes such as boot camps, step class, Zumba, etc. are great options.
The finish line
When it comes to endurance, the main idea is to encourage your cardiovascular system to work for an extended period of time. I’ve personally found it hard to stay motivated using indoor aerobic equipment, but everyone is different. The point is to move and sweat and keep going. If I’m able to get outside for a run, bike or cross-country ski, the adventure and fresh-air aspect keeps me motivated. The fun part is finding out what you love doing most and getting out there to enjoy it. You can always enlist a friend, partner, work pal, or family member for a bit of moral support or companionship, but keep in mind that you’re doing this for you, and no one else. As busy as our lives are, we need to remember that we only get one chance at life and one body. It’s not only OK to set aside time for your exercise regiment and enjoyment, it’s necessary. Make the time, and you’ll make lasting improvements to your heart, health and well-being.
The most effective way to do, it is to do it. – Emilia Earhart