How exercise can reduce your cancer risk
Are you trapped in a sedentary lifestyle? Here’s how to get out.
If you've slipped into a life of mostly sitting, it's not surprising. Much of our lives requires us to stop moving. The good news is you can get your systems back online. Your body will thank you for it.
Take a second to see how your day looks. If it’s work at a desk or in one place, followed by home, then dinner, TV and bed, is it any wonder you can't fit in any exercise?
As a society, we’ve constructed a daily pattern of living that makes it almost inevitable that we won’t be physically active. The structure of our lives – working, driving, sitting to eat, and sitting to relax – can trap us into a sedentary lifestyle
“It can start as early as 5 or 6 years old,” says MD Anderson Senior Exercise Physiologist Carol Harrison.
Even at these early ages, we are guided toward a day of sitting at school, followed by sitting to eat, TV and bed. And it’s a lifestyle that sticks.
Why make a change?
Exercise has a huge impact on how your body functions.
“It creates an environment in your body to maximize all the systems so they work in the greatest capacity,” says Harrison.
In other words, exercise benefits almost every part of your body.
Exercise helps you build up aerobic power. That is the ability of your muscles to convert the oxygen from the heart and lungs into energy.
Exercise affects blood flow, which is how your body is nourished. It also makes you sweat out impurities and can help reduce anxiety and depression. If you’re not exercising, all those processes slow down.
And exercise helps you stay at a healthy weight, which reduces your risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and many other chronic illnesses.
How much exercise is enough?
You should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. That can be broken down into chunks of a few minutes at a time.
But that really is a minimum.
“If I’m sitting at my desk all day long then go home and do 30 minutes of exercise, is that going to make a difference to my health? It’s better than zero and it certainly has been shown to help,” says Harrison. “But will it really compensate for all that sitting? Not that much in all honesty.”
To be truly active and get the health benefits, it’s important to be up and about throughout the day.
How to revamp your life
Restructuring your life requires you to see your daily timetable differently. Time must no longer be chunked out into work, food breaks, leisure and sleep. Exercise has to be built in as well.
- Decide on your goal. If you are just starting out, aim for the minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.
- Write down your weekly schedule as it is now, so you can see how you spend your time.
- Look for spots in your schedule where you can exercise. You could add three 10-minute activity breaks, five days a week. If you do that, plus one hour-long exercise class on the weekend, you have already beaten your goal.
- In addition, look for opportunities to add activity here and there. Maybe you park farther from your office. Maybe your lunch break becomes a self-care break where you do 15 minutes of stretching. Or perhaps you build a strength training routine to do at home while watching TV.
- Break up your days with exercise and then start doing it whether you feel like it or not. Once you’re consistently hitting the minimum goal, you can work your way up to more.
“Nine times out of 10, you will not feel like exercising,” says Harrison. “But I’ve never heard anyone say they were sorry they did it once it’s done.”
Finally, give yourself a pat on the back and congratulate yourself for recognizing the need to change.
“Don’t beat yourself up because you’re not exercising,” says Harrison, “Start again. There’s no time to start like today.”