World of Wonders

Exercise for People Who Can’t Be Bothered

Getting fit doesn’t have to be so hard

By Gaia Vince | July 8, 2015


Let’s face it, exercise is usually boring, difficult, sweaty, and a waste of valuable time that could be spent doing something more interesting or fun—like lying around daydreaming, for example. I’ve held this attitude for most of my life, but recently, I’ve experienced a nagging sense that I should perhaps take my poor body out for a walk once in a while. (The nagging is coming almost audibly from my long-suffering back.) Sitting, experts agree, is a Very Bad Thing, but also happens to be how I spend much of my time.

A look at fitness options on offer confirms their deep lack of appeal: uncomfortable stitch-inducing jogging, panting away in a gym, being yelled at by a lycra-clad dictator in an exercise class … Fortunately, a growing number of studies report that simply walking for 20-30 minutes a day has multiple health benefits (including aiding sleep) and can, in some cases, be better than running. (In my personal classification system, walking counts as transport rather than exercise and is a far more acceptable—even enjoyable—use of time.)

One very satisfying study found that walking just two minutes an hour can offset the ill effects of sitting. That’s a 10-minute walk to the cake shop that will offset five hours of sitting. And since I need to walk back again, I get another five hours of sitting allowance. In fact, since I don’t sit for full 10 hours a day, I actually come out ahead!

There are also ways of combining exercise with other activities, so you can work, read, make a call, while your body does its fitness thing in the background. Electric belts have been around for decades. They stimulate your muscles while you slob on the sofa eating cake, although many of their fitness claims are controversial. More appealing, and with their claims backed by evidence, are treadmill desks. Simply raising your desk to standing height immediately generates health benefits because you’re no longer doing dangerous sitting, although years spent as a teenager working Saturdays at a shop till puts me off to the leg-numbing effects of hours spent standing.

Treadmill desks, though, combine the benefits of not sitting with the benefits of walking. And it’s not just your physical health that’s improved. Studies show benefits for memory and concentration and creativity. I’m sold on the idea. I only wonder how easy it is to focus on a line of text while bouncing on a treadmill with my new fit gait.

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