By Benjamin Goodin
Inertia is a fairly simple proposition — objects holding still stay in place; moving objects stay in motion — with one caveat: this law of physics mandates these principles are constant unless either resting or moving objects are acted upon by an outside force. This means that something has to either motivate a still object to get it moving or stand in the way of an object in action to bring it to a halt.
When it comes to getting regular exercise, it’s pretty easy to see why many of us end up being immobile objects. Even with the proper impetus, our daily lives are full of outside forces that stand in the way of progress: you’re tired at the end of the day, the kids need to be chauffeured to activities,dinner won’t make itself, and there’s that new documentary series on Netflix… it all adds up to enough force to keep us well pinned down; forget about achieving forward motion.
Therein lies the problem; nearly 80 percent of all Americans, young and old, do not get enough physical activity, according to a 2018 CDC report. Sufficient exercise, as defined by the Department of Health and Human Services, is a mere 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity. That number can be as low as 75 minutes per week if it comes in the form of vigorous exercise. In either case, the agency also recommends muscle-strengthening activities at least two days per week. Paradoxically, there is an epidemic of physical inactivity in our nation of rushed meetings, deadline submissions, and overbooked calendars. We do more than ever before, so, clearly, the problem isn’t that we’ve come to a collective rest. We’ve innovated ways to ease the burden of menial tasks and outsource our workload in order to bank a few slivers of extra energy, at the cost of our physical health.
So, how do we find the time to get the vital exercise we require — the lack of which could lead to a gradual, but certain, dead stop — when we feel like we have no more energy to give? The answer isn’t in rearranging our calendars, but it may be in reclaiming little moments during our days. By utilizing inertia, we can make sure our bodies stay in motion for as long as we can move.
Again, the principle is simple — you’re doing things all day long, so you can capitalize on the motion you’ve already initiated by redirecting a small portion of your effort to physical activity.
On the job
Most of the workforce today spends their time sitting in front of a computer. The greatest amount of motion many achieve is the rapid tip-tap of the keyboard, but that’s not enough to really get your blood pumping. If the office allows, get a standing desk or ask to have the surfaces of your cubicle elevated so you can work in a standing posture. On your short breaks (you’re remembering to take breaks, right?) devote a little time to stretching out, pacing your area, or taking a trip to the water cooler for a cup of water; we need the extra hydration anyway. Give your fingers a rest and walk through the office to give a colleague or a team member an update instead of an email. If you’re visiting another department or leaving for the day, ditch the elevator and take the stairs. Instead of camping out at your desk with your smartphone during lunch, take a walk around the building or the block after you finish eating. Waiting on the copier or taking a call? Get some stretches in or pace around the room. If you’re still stuck sitting, desk cycles or “desk peddlers” can be bought on the cheap ($30 for a no-frills model) and slipped into the footwell of your desk for extra action during your day.
On the go
Commuting and running errands constitutes a large chunk of our daily time, but there are ways to reclaim a bit of that for our physical health. Whenever possible, ditch the car. Opt to shop in your neighborhood so you can dust off that bike, or you can go by foot. If you must pick up something across town, skip the fight for the curb spot and park at the back of the lot and walk the rest of the way. If you are a public transportation user, hop out a stop or two early and take the rest of the journey on foot. Leave the bus or train seat for somebody who really needs it and opt for standing (not leaning!) space. Looking to pick up healthy foods and work more steps into your day? Skip the big supermarket and tour the stalls at the local farmers market. If you’re stuck behind the wheel, take advantage of red lights and standstill traffic by doing some simple seated stretches or resistance exercises. You can easily raise your arms above your head and press against the roof of the car, push back against the seat using the steering wheel or dashboard, or even use the foot well to brace your legs.
Around the house
Getting home poses possibly the biggest risk to losing your exercise inertia. By the time that you hit the door, you’re ready to drop everything and flop on the couch, despite the nagging chores around the house. Keep your promises to your spouse and keep up the activity by jumping on that honey-do list — but no cheating. There is a surprising amount of motion you can shoehorn in around the house if you’re willing to forgo some of your modern conveniences. Give the Roomba a rest and get sweeping and vacuuming; these activities are surprisingly good at working up your heart rate, and don’t forget to move out the furniture. Hand dusting instead of using the vacuum attachment is not only a bit more thorough, but all that lifting and stretching really adds up. Save on the water bill by hand washing the dishes (no cheating by using the inactive dishwasher to hide dirty dishes). Do a laundry load relay by emptying the dryer one or two garments at a time and hustling them straight to the closet instead of letting them linger in the laundry basket. Skip takeout and do some home cooking; between fetching items, prepping the veggies, and tending the dishes, you can manage a light workout. Give up the leaf blower and head for the hand tools for some quality movement. Is there a room that could use a new coat of paint or a fence slat that needs replacing? Get at it and get some extra exercise!
Choices you make for your free time can also add up when it comes to clocking in movement for your week. Sure, it’s supposed to be your time off, but there are plenty of enjoyable ways to eke in some activity and have fun. If you are a fan of gab, walk about while you catch up with your friends. Whether you’re on the phone or at the coffee shop, go mobile when making a call, window shopping, or walk it down to the park as you chat. Need some special time with your sweetheart? Skip dinner and a movie and opt for a hike, a dance class, some bike trails, a picnic, or simply go for an arm-in-arm stroll. Confiscate screens and chase the kids into the yard to play a game of catch or a physical game; they’re guaranteed to get your heart racing trying to keep up with them. If you don’t have kids, try playing tag or fetch with your energetic pooch.
Inertia isn’t just a law of physics, it’s a choice we make. You can get weighed down, literally, from lack of activity, or you can work more movement into your day, and in the process, keep in motion for many years to come.
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