There are opportunities for exercise lurking on the way to work, while shopping or even at your desk – and they have a lot to offer.
Hand on heart: Maybe what the former sports fanatic Andreas J. Götz-Bitz says appeals to you a little. The 74-year-old does a lot, but admits: “When it comes to exercise, I’m hardly allowed to say that, I’m totally lazy. Nothing happened for a long time.”
Every minute of movement counts
According to the Federal Office of Sport, one in four people in Switzerland doesn’t exercise enough. Too tired to exercise, lack of desire or lack of time are often cited as reasons. The home manager Götz-Bitz wanted to change something and sought advice from Matthias Zedi from “SalutaCoach”, a start-up at the University of Basel. The personal health coach says: “Many people think that they have to go jogging for an hour every day – otherwise it’s no use.” This is not only difficult to implement, but also a misconception.
“It is scientifically well proven that every minute of movement counts,” says Zedi, who studied exercise, sports and health sciences. Just a few more steps or carrying a shopping bag home – these short but intensive training sessions are tough and demand a lot from your muscles.
Prevent chronic illnesses with 15 minutes of exercise?
Exercise is important for a fit body and an alert mind. It reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, bone loss, depression and anxiety disorders. The World Health Organization (WHO) writes that up to five million deaths could be prevented every year if the world’s population moved more. But what minimum amount of exercise has a positive health effect?
Researchers from Australia and the USA have also asked themselves this question. To do this, they examined movement data from over 70,000 adults. The researchers wanted to find out whether even just a few minutes of physical activity has an impact on our health, for example whether it is linked to a lower risk of death before the age of 65 and of chronic diseases.
Their conclusion: just 15 to 20 minutes of intensive exercise per week is enough. This exercise time in short sessions has been linked to lower mortality and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. The risk fell by 16 to 40 percent. These risks fell even more significantly for those people who exercised for up to one hour per week. In other words: more is more, but every minute counts.
It is particularly important not to sit in the same position for hours, says Zedi. He recommends standing up briefly while working, circling your shoulders or taking a few steps into the fresh air during breaks. This can prevent back pain and tension. Anatomically speaking, we are not designed to sit for long periods of time. So is it worth jumping on the standing desk health trend?
“When we sit, the tension in our muscles decreases and we use less energy – in comparison, standing is clearly better,” says Zedi. A small American study also shows this: those employees who stood at the desk instead of sitting not only took more steps. Their health values such as high blood pressure and weight also changed positively. There is also a tendency for women to stand longer than men, as another study of employees in call centers shows. However, current studies cannot yet answer how far-reaching the switch to a standing desk is for our health.
When resolutions become routine
Standing desk or not, the big sticking point remains implementation. Our environment is often designed in such a way that we can glide through the day as comfortably and passively as possible. “Today we have to make an active effort to achieve physical exertion in everyday life,” says Zedi. Studies show: Infrastructure determines whether people move.
Andreas J. Götz-Bitz also experienced this challenge. He drove to work by car and took the escalator in department stores. That’s why he sought advice from personal health coach Matthias Zedi. One of his tips: write down your successes every week. For example, record the steps you have completed on post-its. However, it takes around 66 days or even longer for a behavior to become a habit, depending on the source.
A few months after the consultation, Götz-Bitz says: “I feel fit and well. This life energy encouraged me to get back into professional life.” Today the 74-year-old runs the Lindenegg Clinic in Zurich. His example shows what studies also underline: integrating a few more moments of movement into everyday life can have far-reaching consequences.