fitness · health

How should we be moving? It’s a moving target

There’s no shortage of movement and exercise advice.  From the  President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition in the US to the Centers for Disease Control, we are inundated with recommendations about how to exercise.  We are told:

how often to move;

how much to move at a time;

what kind of movements we should do;

how intensely to move;

how much/what kind of food to eat before/during/after movement..

This list could go on and on.  There’s so much information and advice out there that you’d need something like this to carry it around (perhaps while exercising, as this woman opted to do).

A woman hiking in mountainous desert, towing a large backpack on wheels with a frame,


At least she can consult reference materials to make sure her hike is optimally executed.

Tracy wrote this post recently about an Australian research group that argued “People need to do five times the exercise recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to stay healthy.”  The group laid out guidelines for what they call “optimum” health.  Tracy lists them below:

  • Run between six and eight hours per week
  • Ride for seven hours per week
  • Swim for eight hours per week
  • Walk briskly for 15-20 hours per week

Wow.  As Tracy said, this is astonishing.  And it’s impossible– who has time to exercise 36–43 hours a week?  I mean, most of us have jobs and lives that might make this a teeny bit difficult to squeeze into our already-stuffed-to-the-gills schedules.

Well, there’s a new article in Outside Magazine (thanks, Sam, for sending this to me) that solved the problem: in short, exercise during work.  It’s called “Always be Moving”.

Yes, you read that right.  It turns out that exercise and movement alone are not sufficient for health and well-being, according to sources in the article.  Of course, we already knew that sitting is not good for us.  The article emphasizes this fact:

“Excessive sitting is a lethal activity,” Levine, who has studied sedentary behavior for nearly 20 years and is the most widely quoted expert on the topic, told The New York Times in 2011.

Lethal.  As in office chair as lethal weapon.

office chair with yellow-green fabric seat

But we already got the memo on this, and a lot of people having standing desks.  Isn’t that good enough to avoid early death?

NO.  Apparently we all need to be moving during our work day, all the time.

The solution to sitting isn’t to stand, though it helps. In fact, according to the findings of a 2015 consensus panel on the topic, we need to be on our feet two to four hours while at work. But the real solution is to move. All day. The stillness is what’s killing us. We should be pacing the hallways and climbing stairs and squatting and lunging and stretching.

Luckily there’s a handy guide to a sample during-workday-workout.  Here it is from the article:

7 a.m. Morning run (45 minutes)

8:30 a.m.Walk to coffee shop (10 minutes)

9:15 a.m.25 push-ups (1 minute)

10 a.m.Wall sit (2 minutes). Walk around the building plus three flights of stairs (5 minutes)

10:45 a.m.20 body-weight squats (2 minutes). Trip to far water fountain (3 minutes)

11:30 a.m. Pick up papers at printer plus two flights of stairs (4 minutes)

12:15 p.m. 25 push-ups (1 minute). 15 side lunges, each leg (2 minutes). Plank pose (2 minutes). Pacing during phone call (10 minutes)

It goes on like this through the afternoon.

I have three things to say about this for now.  First, Who has a job in which they can do these activities a) safely; b) comfortably; c) while getting their actual work done; d) without getting ridiculed or scolded or fired?  As a professor with my own office (and locking office door) I could maybe do some of these things, but there’s still the issue of time (and the problem of being totally disheveled after a bunch of burpees– those are scheduled for 5pm, by the way).

Second, scare tactics like this seldom (by seldom I mean never) work as health advice.  When we’re scared like this, we don’t respond by moving.  We respond by being paralyzed.  Like this:

Deer in the headlights, green animated eyes

Third, this advice, like the recommendations Tracy posted about, is based on someone’s notion of “optimal” health.  It’s creating a moral panic about the public’s failure to take responsibility for their own health by not doing something they coulda/shoulda done.  How we can increase our attention to our own health priorities requires a much more complex approach than running up and down two flights of stairs to the printer.  It’s something this blog spends a lot of time talking about, from a variety of perspectives.

So when you’re at work, feel free to sit back and relax a bit.  It’s not going to kill you.

5 thoughts on “How should we be moving? It’s a moving target

  1. Such a complicated issue. How much should we move to avoid this specific illness or that specific health problem? How much should we move for maximum health, whatever that is? How much should we move for sports performance? Different questions with different answers. So be specific. Also, the one approach I hate is when we modify our message based on motivational worries…..So some health promotional campaigns pick a low end number on the something is better than nothing theory, and the idea that people will just throw up their hands and do nothing if you tell them the truth.

  2. It’s helpful to land upon simple daily activities that one enjoys doing or at least needs to do where the physical effort is secondary. Gardening, walking, cycling or taking transit as transportation, shovelling snow/raking leaves, etc. Thinking about the calorie-burning goal shouldn’t be the end point. Just getting other things done while performing the activity is good enough.

    We are vacationing in Europe and found folding up bikes and carrying them along with our loaded panniers onto high speed trains (which don’t allow full bikes on their cars), too much. So we’re not cycling at all for a few days. We will get back into some 1 hr. rides before flying back to Canada. Was it a relief just for few days. So we walked around seeing sights, etc. Not as aerobic as cycling, plus eating good different cuisine not found in big Canadian cities, not best. But so what…learning other good things about foreign countries.

    So many tourists and locals walking around in big cities.. Not sport performance…it’s ordinary daily life. 🙂 We have to embrace this as normal. Not exercise at all.

  3. I actually love the schedule of the workday with small bouts of exercise in the middle. I’ve never had a job with my own office though and would have felt ridiculous doing 25 push-ups or a chair sit in the middle of an open office environment. However, if it was part of the office culture to do these things, I’d be all over it. I recently moved to NYC for grad school and find that I walk WAY more without even trying since I don’t own a car. I also am able to intersperse squats and push-ups between hours at my desk at home – and my back and my mind thank me for it. Everyone has time to take quick breaks; in fact it’s good for your work to step away every hour or so and take a break. But running 45 minutes every morning? Probably not….

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