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Why Physical Activity Is Important

If you’re like many Americans, your average day consists of driving a half hour or more to work, sitting at a desk for six or seven hours, and then driving home. Your typical evening consists of four hours of watching television before turning in.

If this describes you, you may be paying the price—physically, mentally, and emotionally—for living a sit-down life.

“The human body is designed to move, and when it doesn’t do what it was meant to do, it can start to be less efficient,” says Todd Durkin, a personal trainer in San Diego. “Studies confirm the more sedentary you are, the more likely you are to lose flexibility, endurance, strength, balance, and coordination, which in turn will affect every aspect of your life.”

Range of activities

Physical activity is any movement of the body in which your muscles contract and your metabolism increases. Everything from doing laundry to playing golf is included.

Exercise is a subcategory of physical activity. It refers to a structured program geared toward achieving physical fitness.

Levels of physical activity can be viewed as a continuum. At one end is the person with a sedentary lifestyle. At the other is the athlete who over-trains. Somewhere in the middle is the place to be for optimal health.

“Where you are along this continuum depends on your starting point,” Durkin says. “If you’re currently sedentary, simply upping the amount of physical activity in your daily life is an important step forward.”

Let’s get physical

Because our normal lives don’t require us to be physical, we have become lazier and increasingly out of shape with each passing year, Durkin says.

Here are several ways to become more active:

1. Wear a pedometer and try to average 10,000 steps a day. "This is about five miles and should be easily achievable if you start looking for ways to be more active,” Durkin says.

2. Take the stairs at work, the shopping mall, the airport—wherever they’re available.

3. Park so you have to walk. If your first inclination is to circle the parking lot until you get a first-row spot, back off and park in the rear of the lot; doing so could add a good 10-minute walk to your day.

4. Pair with a partner. Having someone to walk with before or after work or at lunch makes you accountable and more likely to stick with your routine.

5. Avoid modern conveniences. Doing things the hard way burns extra calories and builds more endurance. For example, use a push mower instead of a riding tractor; ride a bike or walk instead of driving or taking a taxi.

“As you begin making active living a habit, it will become easier to do and be more enjoyable,” Durkin says. “The hour or so you set aside to exercise should be sacred to you because it’s a time when you devote yourself to making yourself healthier so you can live longer and better.”