December 30, 2019
Want to be more physically active in the New Year?
Make every step count!
With a fresh year ahead of us, it’s now a great opportunity to take a look at our lifestyle and identify areas that we think we can improve on — the so-called New Year’s Resolutions. And while healthy eating goals get most of the attention on people’s to-do list, this month’s post is devoted to highlighting the benefits of physical activity.
Why put the spotlight on physical activity?
Unlike food, which is needed for survival, physical activity can often often be skipped. According to Statistics Canada, only 16% of Canadian adults between the ages of 18 to 79 meet the recommended targets for physical activity. With our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, research has shown the negative effects of too much time staying still on both our heart health and mortality risk. So much so that prolonged sitting is being called “the new smoking”!
With this information, it is safe to say that most of us need to both increase our physical activity levels and reduce our sedentary time. But before signing up for (and committing financially to) a new gym membership, let’s take a moment to look at some pretty encouraging news about what works to sustainably increase your physical activity levels when you are starting low.
Exercise vs Physical Activity
Although often used interchangeably, it is important to differentiate the two:
Exercise refers to “planned, structured activity aimed at increased fitness”, such as training for a marathon or doing exercises with weight machines.
Physical activity refers to “any movement of the body that increases energy expenditure”, and can include taking a spinning class at the gym or climbing Mount Everest but also activities of daily living such as taking stairs, walking to the bus stop and avoiding prolonged sitting while at work or while watching our favourite TV show.
If our goal is be more physically active, everything counts. What research shows however is that instead of adding little bits of activity “here and there”, actually setting step targets, monitoring them using a pedometer, and reviewing these numbers at each visit with your healthcare provider can actually improve both your HbA1C (a 3-month average of your blood sugars) and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events such as a heart attack or stroke. Not bad for a little extra walking, right?
Putting it into Practice
1. The first step is to get yourself a pedometer, available for loan from the West Toronto Diabetes Program, or install one of the many pedometer apps available for both Android or Apple phones.
2. Determine your baseline number of steps. This number will be used as the starting point for suggested increments in your daily steps over the next visits. The final goal is an increase of 3,000 steps per day on top of your baseline measure over the course of 1 year.
3. Break it down into manageable chunks. Are you starting at less than 5,000 steps per day? Then the step goal for your first visit would be adding 500 steps to this total. The next increment could then be 750 more daily steps for visit 2, and so on.
4. Keep a log sheet where you enter your step counts at the end of each day. Research shows that viewing your progress along the way is an important component of staying motivated to reach your goal.
5. And finally… Bring your log sheets for review at each visit with your diabetes educator or primary care provider – both to celebrate your success and for encouragement in case you encountered any challenges or barriers along the way.
Happy New Year!
And cheers to making this a year of opportunities for better health with every step!
Statistics Canada. (2019). Tracking Physical Activity Level of Canadians, 2016 and 2017. Retrieved from: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190417/dq190417g-eng.htm
Diabetes Canada. (2018). Clinical Practice Guidelines. Physical Activity and Diabetes. Retrieved from http://guidelines.diabetes.ca/cpg/chapter10
Diabetes Canada (2018). Clinical Practice Guidelines. Smarter Step Count Prescription. Retrieved from http://guidelines.diabetes.ca/cpg/appendices/appendix4