How to get enough high-quality exercise every day?

  • 30 Nov ‘22
  • 5 mins.
  • Exercise 
  • Editorial OpenUp Medical

Everyone knows it’s important to get enough exercise every day. Sitting, after all, is the new smoking. Yet only half of the adult Dutch population gets enough exercise. So how much should you move in a day? And is a long walk enough, or would it be better to do some high-intensity exercise every now and then?

We sit too much

Exercise helps you stay as healthy and fit as possible as you grow older. Yet we spend most of our day sitting down. It is good to understand what happens in your body when you sit too much. And that understanding is a good trigger to stand up and get moving. Too much sitting causes:

– Loss of muscle mass and fitness

– Accelerated ageing

– Type 2 diabetes

– Obesity

– High blood pressure

– Depression

– Poor-quality sleep

– Backache

– Possible increased risk of cancer 

– Increased risk of premature death

If you’re interested in learning more, there’s a section at the end of this blog where we explain in detail what happens physically when you sit too much.

What do we mean by ‘mindful exercising’?

Perhaps most importantly, we simply feel better in our skin when we move more. But what exactly do we mean by mindful movement? There are four pillars: stability, strength, stamina, and intensity.

1. Stability

Stability is the foundation on which your strength, endurance and intensity are based. Stability is crucial to building up your exercise routine safely. Good stability around your joints reduces the risk of injuries and dysfunction. This is especially true for anyone who does manual labour every day.

2. Strength

Strength means muscle mass. This is created by moving against resistance. You can either use weights or your own body weight to create resistance. As you get older, your muscle mass gradually decreases. But muscles have an important function. A larger total muscle mass ensures, among other things, a faster metabolism which means you burn more fat even when at rest. The Health Council of the Netherlands advises moderate to heavy muscle strengthening exercise involving all major muscle groups twice a week.

3. Stamina

According to Dutch guidelines for physical activity, at least 150-300 minutes of moderately intensive or 75-150 minutes of heavily intensive physical activity per week is necessary to stay healthy. Or a combination of both. Ball games, running (or fast walking with accelerated breathing), (road) cycling and rowing are all activities you can do for a longer period of time. They use the large muscle groups and your heart rate speeds up.

You can train your body aerobically (with oxygen) and anaerobically (without oxygen). The difference lies in the use of oxygen. Aerobic means energy is obtained with the help of oxygen. The body does not acidify. Anaerobic means your body obtains energy without oxygen: it involves a short burst of high-energy, vigorous activity. An anaerobic exercise is a great form of training for fitter people in particular.

4. Intensity

Every type of exercise can be performed at different levels of intensity; light, moderate or heavy. Light intensity is, for example, gentle walking. Moderate intensity includes brisk walking, energetic cleaning and volleyball. Activities such as running, cycling and swimming can be both moderate and heavy intensity.

Strength training can rapidly become heavy intensity. Try using the ‘talk test’ to determine whether an activity is mild or heavy. You should still be able to talk when performing moderately intensive exercise. Heavy-intensity activities mean you can only utter a few words. And intensity is relative. Walking two kilometres might be a light activity for you, but heavy for your grandmother. And if your grandma is fitter than you 😉 we can help you.

Ideally you will combine all four pillars in your exercise routine. If you’re not used to exercising regularly, don’t try to tackle everything straight away. Build up your routine step by step.  

Moving more mindfully during a day in the office

Do you work in an office? Then you probably spend many hours sitting. Try following these tips to keep moving throughout the day:

1. Move around for at least ten minutes every hour. Especially if your job involves sitting in front of a computer all day. Stand up every twenty minutes, do four squats or stand on one leg with your knee slightly bent (and then the other leg);

2. Give up one hour of screen time and go for a walk instead (maybe put on a nice podcast!);

3. Get a smartwatch if possible, so you know exactly how many steps you take in a day (10,000 is the goal);

4. Exercise when you have lots of energy. Go cycling, walking or play a sport. According to the American professor Roy F. Baumeister, willpower (also called discipline) is actually nothing more than energy (his book ‘Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength’ is highly recommended!).

Moving more mindfully when performing manual labour

Do you work in a physically demanding job that asks a lot from your body? The  following tips can help you take better care of yourself:

1. Make sure you are strong and fit. Hard manual labour is like top-level sport! Stability, good posture and muscle strength are crucial;

2. Get to know and understand your body, so you can recognise when you need to take a step back;

3. Do not ignore physical complaints. Identify the cause in time and seek expert guidance if necessary;

4. Make sure you alternate regularly between exercise and relaxation.

Do you exercise a lot and would like to become even fitter? Do you move enough and would like to move more mindfully? Or do you move too little and want to start building a good routine? We are here for you. Book a consultation, we’ll discuss your wishes and make a plan together.

EXTRA information about what happens when you sit too much

1. Decrease of muscle mass and fitness.

When you move, your muscles contract. This stimulates the muscles to convert proteins into muscle mass. Research has shown that reducing the number of steps from 10,000 to 1,300 per day causes a decrease in muscle mass after just two weeks in healthy adults. Sitting down a lot also affects fitness. A good indicator of fitness is the VO2max. Simply put, this is the maximum amount of oxygen you can breathe within a certain time. Oxygen is essential for converting glucose into energy in the muscles. The same study showed that taking 1,300 steps a day resulted in a 7% decrease in  VO2max (fitness) after just 2 weeks.

2. Accelerated ageing.

Even at the cellular level, a sedentary lifestyle causes ageing. Cells contain DNA and when a cell divides, this DNA is copied and distributed between two new cells. In this way, your body continues to repair itself. At the end of the DNA is a protective cap (a telomere). This protects your DNA from errors during cell division. With each cell division, the telomere decreases in length. At a certain moment, the telomeres are so short that the cell is no longer able to divide. The result is that your body can no longer repair itself and ages. And as it turns out, a sedentary lifestyle is associated with shortened telomeres.

The research mentioned above also compared the cell structure of those adults who reduced their daily steps with another group who remained active. Based on their telomeres, the cells in the active group were 9 years younger than the cells in the inactive group. So exercise keeps your cells young!

3. Type 2 diabetes.

Sitting in your office chair every day without moving means your muscles absorb less glucose from the blood. This is due to a reduced sensitivity to the hormone insulin. Insulin ensures the absorption of glucose into the cells, where it is converted into energy. An inactive lifestyle can therefore contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes in the long term. Sitting for more than eight hours a day increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 90%. And unfortunately, type 2 diabetes shortens life expectancy by 4 years.

4. Obesity.

Your body converts the excess glucose that is not absorbed by your muscles into fat. This can lead to obesity.

5. High blood pressure.

When you sit, the blood vessels that run to the muscles constrict; this is known as vasoconstriction. Prolonged vasoconstriction releases substances that damage your blood vessels. In addition, vasoconstriction causes an increase in your blood pressure. These effects together increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

6. Depression.

A study among approximately 9,000 middle-aged women showed that women who sat for about seven hours a day and did little exercise, had a 47% higher chance of experiencing feelings of depression. This was in comparison to women who sat less than four hours a day and were physically active every day. According to the researchers, this works both ways: depression deprives people of energy and motivation to exercise, and sitting too much makes the depressive feelings worse. Women who did not exercise at all had a 99% higher chance of developing depression compared to women who exercised regularly.

7. Poor-quality sleep.

Do you sit in front of the computer all day? Then the chances are that the quality of your sleep is poor. Exercise makes it easier to fall asleep at night and improves sleep-quality. In addition, blue light from computer screens in the evening hours means you produce less melatonin. So using the computer all day has a doubly negative effect on your sleep.

8. Backache.

Sitting is an unnatural posture, so sitting for hours at a time increases the risk of back pain. Sitting in the same position for an extended period puts a lot of strain on the spine.The surrounding muscles can become weaker because they are not used enough. As a result, the spine has less support and complaints arise sooner. Sitting for hours also has a negative effect on the joints in your arms, wrists and hands.

9. Possible increased risk of cancer.

Many studies show that cancers and death from cancer are more common in people with an inactive lifestyle. The exact reasons for this connection are not known but it is likely to be a combination of the various negative effects of prolonged sitting. These include things such as chronic inflammation, accumulation of waste products, obesity, and reduced insulin sensitivity.

10. Increased chance of premature death.

A study of 220,000 Australians over the age of 45 who spent more than 11 hours a day sitting found that they were 40% more likely to die prematurely. Eleven hours may seem a lot, but if you have a job where you spend most of your hours sitting down, add the hours spent in the car or train, plus the evening hours watching television or sitting at a computer or looking at your mobile and it soon adds up!