Try these 10 activity boosts that could transform your health…
1 Take the stairs
Ever wondered where the inspiration for the stepper machine at the gym came from? The American Lung Foundation says that fast stair-walking provides the same health benefits in 15 minutes as you’d get from walking or jogging slowly for twice that time on flat ground. In fact, a study at the University of Ulster found climbing stairs for an average of six minutes a day led to a 10–15% drop in cholesterol and a 10–15% increase in fitness after seven weeks. It’s also among the best bottom and leg-toning activities around. And don’t worry if you only take one stair at a time – scientists from London’s University of Roehampton found that climbing five flights of stairs five times a week (an ascent of around 15 metres) burned an average of 302 calories per week if the stairs were taken one at a time, but only 260 calories if two stairs were taken two at a time, possibly because it takes less time.
2 Buy a pedometer
They cost as little as £2, but a basic pedometer can match an expensive fitness tracker when it comes to motivating us to get fit. In 2013, a study at Indiana University in the US asked men and women between the ages of 40 and 66 to undergo a 12-week programme in which they wore a cheap pedometer every day. They were encouraged to be active at times they’d normally spend sitting (at a desk or in front of the TV) and to download the data once a week. Results were impressive: they spent a lot less time sitting and more time being active, dropping an average of 2.5lb in weight.
3 Do sit-ups with straight legs
Celebrity fitness guru Tracy Anderson says bending the legs during sit-ups, as most of us do, is a no-no. ‘Keeping legs straight is a much more effective way to get a flat stomach,’ she says. To do it, lie on the floor with legs straight out in front of you and hands behind your head. Keep legs almost together, toes pointed. Lift your head and shoulders, contracting your abdominals, then relax back down to the floor. Keep your legs on the floor and make sure the movement is flowing up and down, up and down. ‘When you’re starting out, it’s ok to do just 10 and take a rest, although 20 could be your goal,’ says Tracy.
4 Do squats for just 30 sec every day
‘People always ask me what’s the best exercise for getting fat off the middle and they’re surprised when I say squats,’ says Zana Morris, owner of exclusive The Library gym in London. ‘Squats work the largest muscles in the body – those in the legs and buttocks and, as a result, trigger a great response in terms of whole-body fat burning.’ Stand with feet flat and slightly wider than hip-width apart. Hold your arms out in front for balance and position your shoulders above the hips. Keeping your chest up, bend your knees to lower yourself into a deep squat that takes your bottom almost to the floor. Push back up by straightening your legs and then swiftly lower again. The idea is to complete the full range of movement in quick succession, doing as many as you can in 30 seconds.
5 Walk, walk, then walk more
The more you stride out, the more benefits there are to your health. Last year, researchers reporting in The Lancet medical journal found that adding 2,000 moderately-paced walking steps (or 20 minutes) a day to regular activity could help people cut their risk of heart attacks and strokes by 8%. Doing 4,000 more steps (that’s 40 minutes more walking), matches the gains obtained from taking cholesterol-lowering drugs. ‘It reduces your cardiovascular risk by about 16–20%, which is the equivalent of taking a statin,’ said researcher Dr Thomas Yates of the Diabetes Research Unit at the University of Leicester.
What Americans call ‘mallercise’ is starting to catch on this side of the pond. It involves incorporating a workout into your shopping spree – and it works. Researchers at the University of Calgary found that an eight-week mall-walking programme, with bursts of speed walking around the shopping centre, led to weight loss and a 63% increase in motivation to exercise. Other studies have shown that committed shoppers can tot up several miles in one session. Just remember to wear your comfortable shoes.
7 Love your winter garden
All gardening is fantastic exercise. Get digging when the weather turns a little warmer, ready for spring planting. But at any time of year you can put a bit of effort into raking and sweeping – it’ll engage your pectoral (chest), abdominal, back and shoulder muscles. You could burn 150 calories in 25 minutes.
8 Slow it down
If you do any sort of resistance training, including weights, slow is the way to go. A study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness showed that doing a few reps of resistance exercise slowly produced 50% greater improvements in muscle tone than doing more reps more quickly.
9 Bedroom antics
Experts estimate we already burn, on average, 69 calories per hour while asleep (that’s 552 calories per eight hours, the equivalent of a roast chicken dinner or two doughnuts). Fitness expert Greg Johnson suggests increasing the benefits by doing some arm-firming ‘duvet dips’ when you wake up: sit on the edge of the bed with your hands by your sides, shoulder-width apart, and your feet flat on the floor. Lift your bottom off the bed, then dip down into a squat and straighten your arms as you come up. Repeat 20 times, rest for 20 seconds, then repeat the sequence twice more.
10 You gotta laugh
Remember, as a child, laughing so hard your tummy hurt? Sammy Margo, chartered physiotherapist, says a good belly laugh ‘really works the deeply embedded abdominal muscles in the core that help to support good posture and achieve a flat tum’. And researchers at Vanderbilt University in the US found 10–15 minutes of genuine giggling can burn off the number of calories found in a medium square of chocolate. So next time you’re sitting down to watch a box set, make it a comedy classic.