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Easy Ways to Exercise at Home or Work

Can fitting extra movement into your day really help you get fit?
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

You know you should do it: Get off the bus a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way to the office, or park your car at the far edge of the mall parking lot. But can this kind of everyday activity really be considered exercise? Can taking the stairs instead of the elevator really make you healthier and more fit?

"Absolutely," says exercise physiotherapist Geralyn Coopersmith, senior manager of the Equinox Fitness Training Institute in New York and the author of Fit and Female: The Perfect Fitness and Nutrition Game Plan for Your Unique Body Type.

"You can get in shape and reduce your risk of developing heart disease or type 2 diabetes with everyday activities such as taking the stairs, walking more, and lifting your children," she tells WebMD.

"Will it prepare you for a marathon? Probably not," she quips. "But will it keep from dropping dead of a heart attack? Quite possibly."

Exercise: Every Little Bit Helps

The good news is there are lots of simple ways to sneak some easy exercise into your daily routine at home or work, she says.

"We are such an all-or-nothing society, but at the end of the day you are better suited to spend five minutes walking in place then to say 'I can't train for the marathon, so I am not going to do anything,'" Coopersmith says.

"Nothing is a problem, something is good, and more is better up to a point," adds exercise physiologist Robyn Stuhr, executive vice president of the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in San Diego, Calif. "I think people hesitate when they think they have blown a big workout opportunity, but you don't always need to do a whole routine. Anything you can do to increase activity over the course of the day is good."

Define anything? "Just walking, as opposed to taking a car, is significant and can make a difference in your weight and heart health," Coopersmith says.

If you really want to burn some calories? Climbing the stairs is a great weight loss exercise. "You can't beat them," she says. "Take every other step so you are really working your legs more. This can really make it a challenging workout."

Another idea for getting some easy exercise at home? Instead of fast-forwarding through commercials while watching your favorite shows on TIVO, "do jumping jacks or march in place during the commercial break. This type of activity really starts to add up," she says.

Still, when possible, it's best to keep moving for at least 10 minutes at a time.

"The guidelines state that we should aim for 30 minutes of moderately intense activity on five or more days of the week or vigorous activity for at least 20 minutes on three or more days of the week," says Ruth Ann Carpenter, MS, RD, LD, director of dissemination at The Cooper Institute in Dallas and author of Active Living Every Day. This can be done in 10 minute bouts, she adds.

"That's not to say a five-minute walk in the parking lot isn't going to help, but research suggests that a sustained 10-minute bout is needed," she says.

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