When you feel down, anxious or stressed, exercise is likely one of the last things on your 'to-do' list. In fact, it's an area I still struggle with, although I'm making progress.
It's clear that in Western society, a premium is placed on 'making life easier', which really means 'involving less movement or effort'. It's just as clear that human beings were meant to move, not just a couple of times a week at the gym, but almost continuously, from waking to night, occasional naps excepted.
You likely already know that 'sitting is the new smoking'- a sedentary life is one at risk for many conditions, including mental health issues. But what do you do when exercise seems too big a mountain to climb?
Enter SWAP, an acronym coined by Dan Pardi- it means Stand, Walk, and Push. It's part of his Enduring Mover framework, created to get us moving in a humanly optimal manner. Let's take a look at each element.
Stand means to, well, stand, hopefully eventually more than we sit. Standing is a more metabolically and calorically active posture than sitting, and can burn up to 75% more calories compared to sitting through a work day. The more you stand, the lower your waist circumference, BMI, triglycerides, and the more stable your blood glucose. It's a good alternative for those of us who lack the energy to 'exercise'- simply standing is definitely more beneficial than sitting or lying. At work, you can consider a standing or convertible desk (or even a laptop stand), or using a stool from which you stand regularly for a few minutes every 30-45 minutes or so to chart, make calls, or revise your schedule yet again. Walking about or stretching during your standing break makes it that much more useful. You could also initiate standing meetings with staff and colleagues (would that shorten the meetings?). When else could you stand?
Walking is also a foundational element. Even a relatively low to moderate level of physical activity is helpful metabolically. When you think 'I don't have time to walk for 30 minutes every day', ask if you have enough energy or time to walk for 5 minutes. Especially if you can repeat that 5 minutes a few times a day, the benefits accumulate. Walking meetings seem like a natural evolution of the standing ones. Use the stairs! Park or get off the bus a little farther from work or home, and park farther away at the store. Wrestle with the kids about who gets to vacuum or take out the garbage- it all counts. When was the last time you washed your own car? Take up an active hobby ( I know, who has time for that?).
Push is short for push yourself. This category includes higher intensity movement, whether in formal workouts, sports, or integrated through your day (eg, a couple of sets of squats during your standing break, or some pushups, even jumping rope for a minute or two). Pardi's recommendations for moderate to vigorous activity are: 150 min/week of moderate intensity (jogging, yoga, dancing), OR 75 minutes/week of vigorous activity ( eg running, Zumba, sports), OR 30 sets/week of highest intensity exercise, for example, sprinting, jump rope, or resistance training OR some combination of all of the above. There is increasing evidence that short bursts of intense activity are more beneficial than prolonged moderate intensity exercise, metabolically, cognitively, and in reducing chronic inflammation- this is good news for the time-challenged among us!
Don't worry if you feel exhausted just reading that list of activities. The key is to start with a little bit more than what you're already doing, and to be patient and gentle with your expectations. Non-'exercise' movement is what we should be concentrating on- moving for more of our day, and getting outdoors as much as possible. That has mood and physical benefits all on its own, making us more likely to take the next step (yeah, I couldn't resist). Consider tracking your mental wellbeing during your movement 'experiment' so that you have data as well as your an overall 'feel' for how it's going. And celebrate! No amount of increased activity is too small to celebrate and feel good about.
What could you do today that is a small step in the upward direction?