Adding movement to your day

In Stand Up for Health, a post I wrote a few weeks ago, I discussed a dilemma many of us face — we have a sedentary job involving hours spent in front of a computer, but sitting too much is very bad for our health. Here are some statistics compiled by www.medicalbillingandcoding.org.

  • sitting is killing you posterIf you sit more than 3 hours a day watching TV, you are 64% more likely to die from heart disease.
  • Between 1980 and 2000, exercise rates stayed the same, sitting time increased by 8%, and obesity doubled.
  • As soon as you sit down, enzymes that break down fat drop 90%.
  • After 2 hours of sitting, your good cholesterol drops 20%.

Standing at the computer has been offered as a solution, but doesn’t seem to be the best answer. You just can’t focus as well on the computer screen or typing while standing or using a treadmill desk. Furthermore, standing doesn’t really offer that much benefit over sitting and can cause other health problems including varicose veins.

A lot of people try to counter the effects of sitting all day by working out before or after work, but lack of exercise isn’t the same thing as too much sitting, and it can’t be “offset by frequent trips to the gym, swimming pool or jogging track.”

A middle way is needed, and a sit-t0-stand approach has been shown to have lots of health benefits with no loss of productivity. We need to regularly get out of our chairs and move around every hour whether we’re working at the computer, playing video games, or watching TV.

But HOW can we  remember to do this and tear ourselves away from our mesmerizing screens? Here are some ideas from other folks around the Internet:

  • Use a small cup for water instead of a big water bottle. Every time the cup is empty get up and refill it.
  • Use a big water bottle and drinking the liquid will result in frequent bathroom breaks.
  • Only use the restroom on a different floor than your office, so you have to use the stairs.
  • Instead of emailing or phoning colleagues, get up and tell them in person.
  • Use the printer down the hall instead of the one in your office.
  • Park farther away.
  • Set timed lights to go out every thirty minutes, so you have to get up to turn them back on.
  • Use the Pomodoro Technique of time management.
  • Get a non-rolling chair and place items you need frequently (e.g. the phone) out of reach.
  • Use a timer (or application like Outlook or WorkRave) to remind you to get up every 30-60 minutes.
  • Do some exercises in your office.
  • Use a fitness tracker like FitBit.
  • At home, during commercials get up and do some exercises or some housework.

As I discussed in an earlier post, I have been trying the FitBit to help me add more activity to my day. I am lucky in that my job as a reference librarian keeps me hopping. If I am working the reference desk on a busy day, I get a lot of steps just from doing my job. However, if I am back in my office working on projects, my FitBit step count goes way down. It was easy to add a few habits to my day that ensure I meet my minimum step count on my FitBit. I started parking at the opposite end of the building from where I work. Walking to and from my car each day now adds about 2000 steps to my step total. I also started using my daily break to take a walk instead of reading a magazine or checking my Twitter feed. This adds about 2000 steps to my daily total and refreshes me and gives me more energy than “resting” as I did before.

Obviously, there are as many ways to add activity to your day as there are people. Two things are certain, though, you will have to use a method that works for you, and you will have to have some way of reminding you to do it, at least at first. Just telling yourself you are going to get up every hour and walk around the office, isn’t going to make it happen. Get started today. It’s easier than you think. Pick one idea from the list, give it a try, and start being healthier today.

FitBit : the first week

I’ve been using my FitBit Flex for about a week now, and I wanted to report my first impressions.

FitBit Flex on wristThe first thing I noticed is that the FitBit Flex is uglier than I thought it would be. It looks sleek in the package, but when you put it on, it doesn’t conform to the contour of your wrist and looks kind of clunky. This also affects the comfort. That said the Flex is no more uncomfortable than a watch, and you soon forget it is there. Speaking of watches, it seems bizarre to me that the Flex doesn’t include a simple digital watch. I keep looking at it throughout the day to check the time, but there is no watch feature. This is something to consider the next time I purchase one of these types of devices. I also didn’t like wearing it when I was sleeping. I could have saved fifty bucks and gotten the plain FitBit if I’m not going to wear it at night.

Other than that, however, the FitBit has been great. It is so easy! All I do is wear my FitBit. If I want to see how I am progressing toward my goal, all I have to do is tap it. The FitBit responds with a small light display that lets me see how close I am to my goal of 10,000 steps. When I log into my computer in the evening I quickly check the FitBit website to see my progress in the big picture. While I am there, I can log my food intake for the day and a host of other things including other activities, weight, blood pressure and more.

The FitBit does seem to overestimate my steps. I didn’t think I was that active during the day, but I have met my goal of 10,000 steps most days. I don’t think this is a huge deal because it is all relative anyway. I want to continue to increase my activity, so I will just set higher and higher step goals for myself as I progress. The actual number of steps isn’t that important right now, just that I am increasing them.

Even though I don’t like wearing the FitBit at night, I love the sleep tracker. Finally, I can’t avoid seeing how late I am going to bed. If you asked me when I went to bed, I would say usually between 10 and 11 p.m., yet the FitBit showed I consistently went to bed after midnight. No more fooling myself. I was surprised at the accuracy of the sleep tracker in telling me when I woke up and how many times I woke up during the night. (How on earth does it know?) This will be so useful in determining what disturbs my sleep, so I can change my environment for better rest at night.

After a hard day’s work, the last thing you want to do is fight with technology. No worries with FitBit. The device itself is very convenient to use and charging it is fast and easy. The website is also user friendly and offers you so much feedback. The data your FitBit device collects all day is automatically uploaded to your account and compiled. You can ask to see your data in many different configurations, and the charts and graphs the website presents your data in makes it easy to digest. You can look at a single day’s worth of data or a date range. Your activity is shown hour by hour, so it is easy to find the times of day you need to work on being active.

I found just seeing the data very motivating, but if you want more, FitBit will send you emails with updates on your progress or you can join their social community. I am very pleased with my FitBit Flex. I think it is going to do just what I want it to and keep me honest about my activity levels. Once I have established a baseline for myself, I am going to customize my goals to increase my activity level. My first goal is to increase my activity at work by building it right into my day. In an upcoming post, I am going to explore why activity throughout the day is important and easy ways to increase activity at work. My FitBit will be able to track my activity to see if my efforts are really producing a more active me.

FitBit Out of the Box

I got my new FitBit!

FitBit in BoxI decided to get the FitBit Flex because I liked the convenience of having it snap on to my wrist instead of carrying it in a pocket or having it hang around my neck. I was also curious about the “sleep tracking’ capability of this device.  I went to Target and bought my FitBit Flex for $99.99. I bought my FitBit from Target instead of online because I wanted to actually see and touch the FitBit before I bought it. They let me take it out of the box and even try it on before I bought it.

FitBit stuff in boxIt took about 20 minutes for me to set up my FitBit and that included taking photos for this post. It was very easy. It would have been nice to have a small how-to in the box, as well as the website, but you have to log on to the website to set up your FitBit anyway, so that was not a huge deal.

The FitBit comes with large and small wristbands, so you can choose which is most comfortable for you. The bands are made of soft and pliable foam, and felt comfortable. The FitBit is rechargeable and comes with a USB charger. It also comes with a “dongle” that you plug into a spare USB port on your computer. This “dongle” allows the FitBit to automatically sync with your online account whenever you come near your computer.

I can’t wait to start using my FitBit! Look for a follow-up post about how my FitBit worked for me and how the tracking actually works. A step-by-step how-to is below.

The first thing you do is create an account at https://www.fitbit.com/setup. The website is very easy to use and understand and leads you step-by-step through the entire process.

FitBit charger

Use the included charger to power up your FitBit. Mine was ready to go.

Insert FitBit into wristband

Insert the charged FitBit into the wristband that fits you best.

Insert FitBit Dongle

Insert the “dongle” into a spare USB port in your computer.

FitBit clasp

Insert the clasp into the wristband.

FitBit on wrist

Snap on your FitBit and start tracking your activity.

Gaming for health continued…

A month or so ago, I tried playing a “behavioral change game” called SuperBetter. I really liked the game, and it seemed to have a lot of potential for helping me reach and maintain life goals including maintaining healthy weight and activity levels. Unfortunately, SuperBetter had some problems that made it less than ideal for me. SuperBetter lacked an Android app and the forums were not supported and did not work. After a few weeks, I found myself working for hours to personalize the SuperBetter game, and I ended up with an inefficient activities tracker.

I gave up on SuperBetter, but not on the idea of the “gamification” of my health and wellness. There are dozens of tech options out there to help people with maintaining their health. I decided to find the ones that would work for me, and report on them here. As I researched my options, a few things became clear:

  • The lack of an Android app had been very annoying when I played SuperBetter. If a system depended on me using my phone, it had to have an Android app.
  • I didn’t rule out systems that weren’t dependent on my phone, though. My phone is big and lives in my purse, not my pocket, and many systems that depend upon your phone’s GPS are battery drainers. This kind of system might not be the best choice for me.
  • Some exercise apps require a larger screen size than a phone (e.g. demonstrating exercises). These apps needed to have an app for iPad or the capability to run on a PC.
  • I didn’t want a system that used competition between people as a motivator (e.g. Fitocracy). This isn’t motivating for me. I would rather compete against myself and my goals.
  • I didn’t want a system that involved betting of any kind (e.g. GymPact). I’m allergic to gambling, and have trouble betting even a nickle.
  • I didn’t want a system that cost more than a few dollars to try, but apps that let you buy more options later, and systems that included a separate device like FitBit were okay.

The systems/apps I considered fell into four categories. There were apps that provided workouts you could do in your home, there were apps that tracked your food intake and activities levels and provided a social community for support, there were systems that used GPS technology to track your activity and save the data on your computer for analysis, and there was one game.

Three apps that provide home workouts or digital personal training are Gain Fitness, Sworkit, and Gorilla Workout. They provide workouts at all levels of fitness. They are all free or inexpensive. I started with the 99 cent options and can choose to add more workouts later that cost between $2 to $10. They all have demonstrations of the exercises, so I can check my form easily. None of them require special equipment or lots of space. I don’t want to use this type of app on my phone because it is just too small. I downloaded Sworkit and Gorilla Workout to my iPad and will use Gain Fitness on my PC.

Two apps were food trackers, LoseIt and myfitnesspall.  LoseIt had been recommended to me by a friend who uses it, and it looked like a great system for tracking your food intake, but I am more interested in tracking my activity.  Myfitnesspal seemed like a better choice both as a food tracker and an activities tracker and has the ability to sync with both the FitBit (recommended by another friend) and another exercise app called Sworkit, which I am also testing.

There are a few systems out there that act as high-tech pedometers to track how much you move your body every day. Nike, Garmin, and Jawbone all have their versions, but FitBit comes highly recommended by a friend, has great reviews, and seems like a better deal when compared to the others. I must admit I am excited about the possibility of having my FitBit track my movements and sync the results to myfitness pal and Sworkit. I will see if it really works.

Finally, the game. I have no doubt The Walk would motivate me to walk more. It is an adventure game that starts when a “bomb explodes in Inverness station, and you’re given a package that could save the world. To stay alive, you’ll need to walk the length of the UK.” As you walk more and more miles, you get more and more of the story. I KNOW this would work for me because I learned to type years ago using a game called “Typing Intrigue” based on the same principle. Unfortunately, the app uses your phone as a pedometer and according to many reviews, the pedometer doesn’t work very well and the app is plagued with problems. I am not going to try this app right now even though it is only $2.99, but I am going to look for one like it that works with FitBit.

So now I have to purchase a Fitbit, set up accounts, and get started. I will report back on how these systems/apps worked or didn’t work. If any of you have used these apps/systems, I am open to advice.

Spring Wake Up Call

All this winter, I have been taking my walk regularly, no matter the weather, and saving the elliptical for ice emergencies only. I thought I was doing really well, but it turns out that I’m not.

A few days ago, I got out for my walk, and for the first time in months, the streets were truly ice free and dry. I could walk without my YakTrax and at full speed. Wow! I have not been getting an equivalent workout compared to my fair-weather walks. By the time I had walked only one mile at my usual speed on the dry surface, I could feel my muscles beginning to tighten from the unaccustomed effort, and I was even breathing a little harder.

This is really disappointing because while I walked through the ice and snow this winter, I felt like I was getting a good workout, but obviously I wasn’t. As much as I hate working out inside, I am going to have to add some indoor exercise to my routine during the winter, so that I can really measure how much of a workout I am getting.

On the bright side, we still have plenty of winter left, so I can turn things around. Here I come elliptical.

Spring-itis

I am not a person who longs to move to Florida or (shudder) Arizona. I love winter, and it runs in the family. My dad actually moved further north when he retired, and that is my goal as well. March, however, is the month that tries Michigander’s souls.

When faced with the deep-freeze of January and February, winter isn’t hard to take. Even if you are not a fan, you can at least put your head down (into the wind) and endure. Besides, what else can you do?

When March comes, though, you know spring is around the corner. The birds become irritating with all their cheerful chirpiness. There is actually sunlight outside when you wake up in the morning. Then there are the warm days, like yesterday. The temperature soars into the forties, and even though there are still piles and piles of snow everywhere you go out without a jacket. You breath deeply and catch the faintest whiff of spring in the air, and that’s when you’re trapped. Yes, trapped into thinking the snow will soon melt, the flowers will soon bud, and the air will soon warm. You lose your focus. Instead of keeping your winter mindset, you start thinking about spring. You do this even though you know deep in your heart there is at least one more huge blizzard on its way. You do this even though you know that after the blizzard there will be weeks of mud, yuck! You do this even though you know that spring will eventually come, but it will not be “soon.”

You have just succumbed to spring-itis. It’s  nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to everyone, even born and bred Michiganders, and it has happened to me. Once you have spring-itis, you can’t go back. There is no cure. All you can do is embrace it and hope there is only one more blizzard, not two or three.  Here is my plan for coping with  spring-itis:

  1. I am going to clean my house. It is a little early for true spring cleaning. I can’t open the windows and let in the fresh air yet, but I can brighten and freshen where I live. This will not only get me off the couch and distract me, but make me feel good. Just because it’s slushy and gray outside doesn’t mean it has to be that way inside.
  2. I am going to change up my exercise routine and get out of my rut.
  3. I am going to find a few new recipes and maybe make a summer favorite like a BLT or grilled hamburgers.
  4. I am going to go through my clothes and buy a few new things for spring.
  5. I am going to clean and sweep the garage floor of all its salt and dirt, and maybe even wash my car.
  6. I am going to get some paint chips and choose a color for my living room.
  7. I am going to look at the plans for the raised garden I am always meaning to plant.
  8. I am going to force some bulbs or budding branches (just like Martha) or buy some spring flowers.
  9. I am going to get a haircut because, well, a haircut always makes me feel better.
  10. I am going to have a gin and tonic and celebrate because by the time I have all of this done, it will be gin and tonic weather!

How do you deal with spring-itis?