Out of time
Whilst many of us could be a little more active and eat a little healthier, our biggest challenge is how to fit this time into an already full life. In your 40’s, 50’s and 60’s there are many competing demands on your time. Perhaps, more so than any other life stage. People are busy balancing careers, children, social lives and other extra-curricular activities. Often physical activity is one of the first behaviors to decline, however, it does not have to. One of the most common excuses for physical inactivity is lack of time.
Each day has only 24-hours and how you spend that time can either increase or decrease many future health-risks including dementia, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even the future health of your joints and muscles. The 24 hours in each day can be broken into time spent sleeping, sitting and being physically active. National Sleep Foundation recommends adults sleep between 7-9 hours each night. This leaves 15-17 hours for sitting and being physically active. Some daily behaviors are considered non-negotiable, for example traveling to work and the 8-10 hours you spend each day at work. Physical activity guidelines in Australia and the US suggest adults should aim to achieve 150 minutes of moderate-heart rate raising activity each week or 75 minutes vigorous intensity physical activity as a minimum. This can be achieved in as little as 5-10-minute bouts and can be incorporated into just about anything you do.
Start with Small Steps
Our advice for people just starting to become more active is to start small and build from there. Each day aim to incorporate 5 extra minutes of activity (by getting off the bus one stop early or parking the car further away from work or the shopping mall). Once you have embedded this behavior, incorporate something else. For example, climbing the stairs to the office or walking laps of the oval whilst the children are at soccer or swim practice. Then repeat. Humans are excellent examples of creatures of habit – and this Small Steps approach is perfect for habit building. My Age Fit featured this in an earlier article called the 10-minute march to fitness but here’s the evidence below from my research lab!
Evidence that Small Steps works!
Over a 12-week period, just incorporating a single behavior change each week (even just 5 minutes a week) and building on that the next week, can increase as much as 60 minutes of activity. Our research has shown this Small Steps approach is effective, helps build new healthy behaviors, which will eventually become habits.
Finally, for the best possible success, we suggest doing the activities you enjoy. It is well known that people will engage in activities they enjoy and avoid those that they do not. In fact, research tells us that sedentary people who feel good during a single bout of aerobic exercise engage in 36-41 minutes more physical activity 6-12 months later, compared to those who did not feel good.
The bottom line is to incorporate small amounts of activity into your life daily (even 5 minutes) and see the difference it will make.
Dr Ashleigh Smith is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of South Australia who studies neuroscience and physical activity. She leads a team of researchers who are investigating how activity patterns and physical activity protects the brain against dementia. Dr Smith hopes to see optimal interventions for brain health delivered in a way that is enjoyable, sustainable and feasible for individuals at risk of dementia. Few traditional methods of exercise engagement take these factors into account. When not at work, Ash is kept busy chasing energetic 8-year old twins and coaching their cricket and soccer teams.