Tag Archives: physical fitness

Outdoor exercise during allergy season

Now that we are all spending much of our time at home, more and more people are seeking ways to exercise outdoors. Obviously, rules about social distancing apply, so avoid exercising in groups and keep your distance from people you meet along the way. Walking, running, and cycling are great ways to be active and are appropriate to do alone, with your immediate family, or your dog. But this also means dealing with seasonal allergies, which can make being active outdoors unpleasant for allergy sufferers.

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Photo by Sebastian Voortman from Pexels

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Working or learning from home? Don’t forget about recess!

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, many adults and children are settling into a new routine of working and learning from home. Children and their new teachers—often parents and grandparents—are finding ways to complete schoolwork at home, often with limited guidance or resources. For people working from home, that means finding ways to be productive, often while caring for and homeschooling children.

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Photo by G Drama from Pexels

Most teachers and schools have provided assignments that cover the major subjects kids would do in school: English, math science, and social studies. It is critical to continue learning these subjects even when schools are closed. But a school day also includes other subjects like art, music, and PE. Unfortunately, projects for these subjects are probably not included in the distance learning resources provided by schools.

Far from a distraction, opportunities to be creative and physically active in school support and enhance learning and should be included at home, too. Research shows that physical activity can positively affect several factors that are related to academic performance. These include skills (attention, concentration, and memory), behaviors (classroom conduct and homework completion), and academic achievement (test scores and grades).

Regular physical activity is also essential for good health, growth, and physical development, including maintaining a healthy body weight. This last point is important given the epidemic of obesity and related health problems in children, including “adult” diseases like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Physical activity is also a great way to reduce feelings of stress, something that is especially relevant now.

Current recommendations call for all children to get at least 60 minutes of activity per day. This can include activity at school from physical education classes, recess, other classroom activities as well as games, sports, and unstructured play. All of these opportunities for activity can be part of a school day at home. Even if you aren’t a PE teacher, giving kids time to be active and play is critical to their health, learning, and wellbeing, so make sure you include recess in your home school plan.

Almost any activity counts, even if it is not structured. Active play, practicing sports, walking the dog, and running or bicycling around the neighborhood are excellent options. Given social distancing recommendations, it’s best to do these activities individually or as a family and to avoid public places like playgrounds. You can find ideas for PE activities at home online, many of which would make a good workout for adults, too. Even taking short breaks to get up and move throughout the day can have health and cognitive benefits

This isn’t just for kids—adults need recess, too! Prolonged sitting in your home office has been linked to negative health effects that are similar to those of not exercising. Even among people who do exercise, those who spend more time sitting tend to have more health problems than those who are more active during the day.

Taking short breaks at work also improves attention and productivity. In fact, many time management and productivity techniques include periods of focused work separated by breaks. Since most work is done sitting at a desk or in front of a computer, these breaks can be used to get up and move. Together with dedicating time every day for exercise, these activity breaks can contribute to meeting physical activity recommendations and can add up to serious health benefits.


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Calories count, but don’t count calories!

When it comes to losing weight, calories count. Thanks to a host of wearable devices and mobile apps, counting calories has never been easier. This matters because losing weight almost always means cutting the calories that you eat and increasing the calories that you burn. This concept of “eat less, move more” is the foundation of nearly every effective weight loss program. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Modern wearable devices and mobile apps allow you to track your weight, what you eat, and your activity fairly accurately. Many apps can measure the intensity of exercise by using the GPS and accelerometer features of your phone itself or by syncing with a wearable bracelet or belt clip. Some include heart rate to make the estimates even more precise. Using this technology, you can count steps, measure how many miles you walk or run, and estimate how many calories you burn.

Other apps can help you track what you eat. Whether you are counting calories or concerned about the amount of protein you are eating, diet analysis apps can show you what you are really eating. Most require you to enter the foods you eat and the app calculates calories, nutrients, sugar, salt, and water intake based on standard databases. In order to get accurate results, it is important to estimate portion sizes accurately, something that is challenging even for experts. That said, these apps can be useful for tracking what you eat to help you learn about your eating patterns to develop healthier habits or meet specific goals, such as eliminating added sugar from your diet.

Activity trackers and exercise apps are especially popular for improving fitness and promoting weight loss. Both the physical activity that you do throughout the day and dedicated exercise are important for good health, physical fitness, and weight control. This technology can help you know what to do, when to do it, and how much you did at the end of the day.

Even if you aren’t concerned about exactly how many calories your burned in an exercise class or how many steps you took during the day, these devices can help you develop healthier habits. Many people are simply unaware of how sedentary they are during the day or are unrealistic about how intense their workouts really are. For many people, an accurate report of how many steps they took or how many calories they burned is helpful for gauging their success and identifying things they can improve.

While these tools can be helpful, it is important to emphasize the importance of developing healthy habits in order to improve fitness, lose weight, or keep it off. A focus on “micromanaging” steps or calories may cause you to lose sight of the “big picture” changes you want to make. For example, you should strive to be as active as you can throughout the day, even if you have already met your step or calorie goal.

Keep in mind that there are very few people who failed to meet their fitness or weight loss goal because they didn’t have the latest activity tracker or fitness app. Real success comes from making lifestyle changes to incorporate healthy eating and activity habits that you can maintain without constant reminders. While technology can help you make those changes, it does not replace the dedication needed to develop lasting eating and activity habits to promote good health.


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Vocabulary lesson: Exercise, activity, and fitness

When I write about health-related issues I routinely use terms like exercise, activity, and fitness. Some people have asked why I use these different words since they all have a similar meaning. That is an excellent question, since these terms are related they have different applications for health and wellness.

Physical activity (PA) is defined as any movement produced by muscles that expends energy. Physical activity can be classified as occupational, what you do at work, and leisure-time, what you do in your free time. Occupational PA can vary greatly depending on the job, but it is low for most of us who spend much of our work day sitting. Leisure-time PA is all activity outside of work. This is of great interest to researchers since it reflects how we chose to spend our discretionary time. Physical activity can be measured by questionnaires or using devices such as pedometers, which count the steps you take, or accelerometers, which measure how much you move.

Exercise is a type of physical activity that involves planned, structured, and repetitive movement to improve or maintain physical fitness. Physical fitness, then, is a set of attributes that relate to the ability to perform physical activity and exercise. The components of physical fitness include endurance, strength, and flexibility. Basically, participation in physical activity and exercise improves your fitness and the greater your fitness, the better able you are to participate in physical activity. This is true for completing occupational tasks as well as traditional exercise, such as jogging or lifting weights.

The good news is that both physical activity and exercise have health and fitness benefits. Physical activity can vary in intensity, from light (slow walking), moderate (brisk walking), or vigorous (exercise like running). The 2008 U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that, at a minimum, all adults participate in moderate-intensity physical activity for 2 hours and 30 minutes per week or vigorous activity for 1 hour and 15 minutes per week along with strengthening exercises at least 2 days per week. You can meet this recommendation by going for a brisk walk for 30 minutes on 5 days per week or running for 25 minutes on 2 days per week or some combination of the two. Additional benefits come from doing more, either higher intensity or longer duration activity.

Vigorous exercise is the best way to improve fitness while moderate-intensity activity is strongly linked to health benefits. Fitness benefits result from adaptations in the heart and muscles, which get stronger and become better able to resist fatigue. These changes also lead to health benefits including lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose as well as helping with weight loss and weight control.

Recent research suggests that health and fitness benefits also result from light-intensity or intermittent activity, especially if it replaces sitting. At home or at work, the more time you spend sitting, the poorer your health, even if you exercise every day. A recent study shows that getting off the couch and stepping in place during TV commercials results in nearly 25 minutes of activity per hour and burns about 150 calories, compared to 80 calories just sitting the entire time. You won’t get in great shape doing this, but it will increase your overall activity.

With this is mind, a good recommendation is to reduce sitting time in favor of light activity—stand while you read the paper or walk around while you talk on the phone—and participate in moderate or vigorous activity each day by going for a brisk walk or doing other exercises, including strength training.