Many of us spend a lot of time each day sitting in front of a screen. Sitting for long periods of time can take a toll on your health, especially if you sit for more than eight hours a day with little or no physical activity. Fortunately, moderate exercise can counter the negative health effects of too much sitting. That’s why it’s important for people of all ages and abilities to be as active as possible—no gym membership required.
The health benefits of physical activity
Too much sitting is linked with a number of health concerns, including excess body fat around the waist and high cholesterol. Extended sitting can also lead to increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
Getting up from your desk or couch and moving more contributes to better health. Taking short breaks from sitting helps strengthen your muscles and improves blood circulation.
Regular physical activity is good for the body and mind. According to the World Health Organization, exercise can:
- Reduce high blood pressure
- Lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer
- Help you maintain a healthy weight
- Strengthen your bones
- Increase balance and flexibility
- Boost your energy
- Improve your sleep
- Reduce the risk of depression and improve your overall mood
Of course, always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
16 exercises for couch potatoes
Even if you don’t like to exercise, it’s possible to stay active without moving far from your sofa. You can even exercise while sitting at your desk or watching TV.
Work your legs
- Lie on your back on the couch (or on the floor) and slowly bring your left knee up to your chest. Pull it in with your arms to a point that feels comfortable. Hold the stretch for ten seconds and then slowly release your knee. Now, do the same thing with your right leg. Switch back and forth between your legs until you’ve stretched each leg five times.
- Lie flat on the floor and tense your thighs and stomach muscles. Lift your right leg about six inches off the ground. Hold this position for a count of ten and then lower your leg. Repeat this six times. Switch legs.
- While sitting, raise your left leg straight up and squeeze your thigh muscles. Hold this position for five seconds before lowering your leg. Keep this up for 30 seconds. Do the same thing with your right leg.
- From a seated position, raise your left foot a few inches in front of you. Trace the letters of the alphabet with your toes. Now, do the same thing with your right foot.
- Sit on the edge of your couch with your feet flat on the floor. Keep your heel on the floor and lift the toes of your right foot toward the ceiling until you feel a stretch in your calf muscle. Hold for 30 seconds. Now, do the same with your left foot. Repeat this four times with each foot.
Stretch your upper body
- From a seated position, pinch your shoulder blades together, but try not to shrug. Hold this for ten seconds. Repeat ten times.
- Stay seated and tighten your stomach muscles and rotate to the right while keeping your hips and legs facing forward. Bring your body back to center and then rotate to the left. Go slowly and concentrate on rotating only your torso.
Work your hands
- Squeeze a small rubber or foam ball with your left hand for 30 seconds. Now, do the same thing with your right hand. Repeat this six times.
- Hold a basketball or volleyball over your lap with both hands. Squeeze the ball for ten seconds, as if you’re trying to deflate it. Repeat ten times.
- Go from sitting to standing to sitting again, ten times in a row. Use your hands to push on the arms of the chair for support. After you master this move, try standing up without using your arms. Rest for a minute and then repeat.
- Hold onto the back of a chair for stability. Lift your right heel toward your buttocks and hold for 30 seconds. Now, do the same with your left heel. Do this five times per leg.
- Holding onto the back of a chair, stand and rise up onto your toes. Hold this position for ten seconds and then lower yourself back on your heels. Repeat this five times.
Work your arms
- Stand up with your arms out to the sides and slowly move them in big circles for 30 seconds. Rest for a moment and reverse the direction of the circles. Repeat ten times. Next, hold your arms straight in front of you and circle in each direction for 30 seconds. For an added challenge, hold small hand weights or soup cans.
Work your upper body
- Place your hands on a desk. Keep your arms straight and walk your feet back until your body is at an angle. Keep your back straight and core tight. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
- Place your hands on a desk, wider apart than your shoulders. Slowly lower yourself to the desk and then raise yourself back up to where you started. Repeat this ten times.
- March around the room for 30 seconds, lifting your knees as you step. Stop and march in place for another minute. For an added challenge, raise your arms over your head as you march. If you really want to raise your heart rate, walk up and down the stairs.
Stay active, stay healthy
Physical activity can help you stay healthy as you age. If you don’t like to exercise, remember that almost any activity counts—dancing to music, playing active video games, housework, gardening, and more. Find more tips on fitting exercise safely into your life.