Every physical activity you do throughout your day counts

Walking, dancing, household chores. It’s all good for better sleep and brain health as well as lowering risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Feb. 18, 2019

pregnant mom dancing with child in kitchenThat brisk walk across the parking lot — it counts. Shoveling the walk — it counts. Vacuuming the house — it counts too.

New physical activity guidelines recently released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stress the total weekly amount of physical activity, not necessarily duration.

“The new physical activity guidelines reinforce that any amount of physical activity — walking, dancing, household chores — is beneficial compared to being sedentary,” said Dr. David Rosenbaum, a cardiologist with the UCHealth in Colorado Springs. “Everything you do counts.”

The advice from UCHealth doctors: Get out of your office chair and go take a walk through the halls, or to the furthest water cooler or bathroom. Every physical activity you do throughout your day counts toward better sleep and brain health as well as lowering risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

Mama Mia & You

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts and UCHealth are offering Zoom classes designed to improve health and well-being.
An online master class MAMMA MIA & YOU: A DANCE PARTY DATE will give you a chance to get up and moving. As the DCPA website says: “My! My! How can you resist this chance to release your inner ABBA?”
Here’s how to sign up for the Feb. 24, 2021 Zoom class:
  • Go to the DCPA’s website and click on the education tab
  • Zoom classes are listed under “Adult Online Classes” linked here and people can click the “register” button to sign-up for upcoming classes
  • Class schedules and descriptions are listed below and can be sorted by type, day of the week and type of session.

More evidence, more benefits — same prescription

“The actual recommendations for physical activity are unchanged in the new guidelines,” explained Dr. Patrick Green, cardiologist with UCHealth in northern Colorado. “Adults should get 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 to 100 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity. Muscle strengthening with resistance training should be done two times per week.”older man's face under water

Moderate-intensity activities include walking, ballroom dancing, gardening and water aerobics. Vigorous activities are those in which you’re out of breath, like power walking, jogging or running, swimming laps or playing a singles game of tennis. Muscle-strengthening activities include everyday behaviors — such as lifting children, climbing stairs or shoveling — just as much as using free weights or elastic bands.

Habits start early. So should encouragement

Children ages 6 to 17 should get 60 minutes of physical activity per day. The new guidelines also include information for 3- to 5-year-olds.
Man carrying a young child on his back

Bone-strengthening, balance and flexibility activities are beneficial. Work on them individually, or find an activity that combines them all, such as yoga or tai chi. Children can participate in these activities too, but they can also achieve these benefits in simple play, by jumping, skipping or dancing.

“Heart-healthy habits in adults are rooted in the environment and behaviors in childhood,” Green said. “Unhealthy behavior when young continues as an adult and increases cardiovascular risk. Adopting heart-healthy behaviors requires involvement of family, teachers and the community.”

Where are we now?

According to Green, only 1 percent of children have ideal dietary habits and fewer than 50 percent of adolescents get the guideline-recommend amounts of physical activity.

Adults fare even worse.

Currently, only 26 percent of men, 19 percent of women and 20 percent of teenagers are meeting the activity recommendations.

“Getting just 25 percent of those people to be more active would prevent almost 75,000 deaths annually in the United States,” Rosenbaum explained.

“Everything you do during your day counts toward the goal of at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. … Walk for a few minutes at lunch or with your family after dinner.”

Just MOVE!

two people kayaking on a mountain lake

“The more we move, the better we feel, function and sleep,” Rosenbaum said.

The more time someone is sedentary — sitting at an office desk or on the couch watching a screen — the greater their chance of developing Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancer, according to the report.

“Take the stairs instead of the elevator,” he said. “Park farther away from stores to walk in. Housework and chores count. Risk of sedentary behavior on not only heart health but cancer risk is real.”

The benefits of physical activity

“The guidelines emphasize that there is no minimum requirement of exercise to get a benefit and provides guidance on tested strategies that can be implemented to get the population more active,” said Dr. William Cornwell, cardiologist at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

Immediate benefits include improved sleep, reduced anxiety, improved cognition and lower blood pressure.man in a greenhouse holding a try of seedlings

“And most of these improvements become even larger with regular performance of this activity,” Green said. It’s also true that some of these benefits, such as lower blood pressure, last for hours — even days — after the bout of activity.

Improve your sleep

When it’s time for bed after a day of physical activity, people who meet the guidelines take less time to fall asleep, spend more time actually sleeping, have improved sleep quality and get more deep sleep.

The same research shows that people who have met the guidelines — both those with chronic insomnia as well as those without diagnosed sleep disorders — have less daytime sleepiness and use sleep aid medication less.

And these benefits come whether the activities take place eight hours before bed or three.

Long-term benefits

person playing ice hockey

“It’s important to emphasize that exercise is just as important as any pill that you take,” Cornwell said. “In my estimation, there are no drugs — and there never will be a drug — that has a risk/benefit profile that is as favorable as exercise. … It is an incredibly important ‘tool’ that needs to be used.”

What’s more, new evidence suggests that exercise lowers the risk of certain types of cancer: bladder, endometrial, kidney, stomach, esophageal and lung cancer, beyond just breast and colon cancer, Green said.

When physical activity becomes regular, the brain function that helps organize daily activities, plan for the future and control emotions also improves.

Are we just too busy?

man giving women a piggyback ride on the sidewalk“Americans are not as busy as they think they are. It has been reported that in 2017, Americans watched just under eight hours of television per day,” Cornwell said.

“Exercise is not something that you do — it’s a lifestyle,” he continued. “There is no magic pill that can be taken when you are 50 to 60 that will immediately reverse a lifetime of inactivity. You can afford to turn off the TV off or any other device (phone, tablet, etc.) and go for a 30-minute walk with your family, your dog or during your lunch break. … It needs to be part of who we are.”

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.