dancing

Goodbye, Resolutions! Hello, Habits!

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About half of us make New Year’s resolutions. Two-thirds of them have something or other to do with fitness – lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking…that kind of thing.

And by this time of year, 1 in every 3 of us gives up. Even most of us who keep on ultimately fail to reach our goal. Yet we continue to resolve anyway.

But before you get completely discouraged, a recent study may give you even more incentive than the beginning of a new year.

Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something

According to a recent Danish study that followed 2308 adults for 5 years, just going to work, exercising and eating healthy may not be enough to keep you healthy.

Yep, you read right. The results suggest that how you spend your leisure time makes a big difference.

Study participants who spent their leisure time sitting had increased insulin levels and lower heart and lung function (VO2Max), even if they also engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity. We know increased blood sugar levels indicate inflammation in the body. Inflammation in the body is a systemic issue and affects gum tissue health. (As we’ve noted before, exercise significantly reduces your risk of gum disease.)

The big culprit is the sitting itself. Earlier research has suggested that the more you sit – whether at work or home – the greater your risk of early death.

Clearly, meeting the recommended physical activity goals alone isn’t enough to undo the damage that a sedentary lifestyle can do. Getting more movement into your day can be life sustaining!

Habitual Physical Activity

What this means for us resolvers? We need to incorporate exercise into an active life. As the Danish study clearly brings into focus, it may be important to not only promote moderate to vigorous physical activity, but to discourage sedentary behavior during leisure time.

Another recent study concurs:

The majority of adults do not meet current guideline recommendations for moderate to vigorous physical activity. Recent research has linked a high amount of sedentary behavior with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, the metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and death. This correlation with sedentary behavior even extends to individuals who meet recommended physical activity goals during the remainder of their day, which implies that sedentary behavior may represent a distinct cardiovascular risk factor that is independent of the overall amount of physical activity.

Getting active on a regular basis doesn’t have to mean more exercise, though. There are lots of ways to get more movement into your daily routine.

You can also make that movement personally – spiritually, mentally – fulfilling. It might be as simple as finding a hobby you find engaging. Or a class that develops a skill, like cooking, dancing, sewing, knitting, gardening, or woodworking. Life skill classes are a great way to not only involve others, but bond with them in the process.

It could be you volunteer for a community organization or offer time or service like running errands or shopping for an elderly neighbor, or just providing companionship. You could even make a family vacation out of it!

Anything that engages your body is a plus, but anything that gives you the opportunity to help others in the process may have added benefits linked to compassionate purpose.

Instead of resolving, we might be better looking to make physical activity a habit, deeply woven into the fabric of our days. After all, just like the habit of brushing and flossing, once something becomes habit – as Gretchen Rubin notes in Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives – it frees us from overthinking and we, to steal a phrase, just do it.

Image by Andrew Baron, via Flickr