Walk More in '24: How to Make the Most of a Few Minutes of Workday Downtime

(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Kathy Nunez)

Here's a not-so-clever fitness mantra that applies to all of us: "Walk more in '24."

After reading this recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, you may want to add 10 minutes of power walking to your day. If you add walking after a meal, you receive even greater benefits. Also, breaking up sitting every 30 minutes with three minutes of walking (or even standing) can aid joint stiffness and increase work productivity. These are easy but highly effective activities we all need to add to our day for the bonus physical or mental health benefits.

In the studies above, the active ingredient is a minimal amount of activity each day that can be spread throughout the day as an opportunity to walk or stand up again. Most people in these studies were sedentary Americans who averaged 12 hours sitting in a 16-hour waking day. This is not just leisure time spent watching television; many Americans work seated and can benefit from adding just a few minutes of standing and walking every hour to the tune of just 3-10 minutes.

The blood of the participants in these studies was analyzed and showed decreased blood glucose (blood sugar) and insulin levels in the activity-added groups. However, blood triglycerides were not lower in the walking-only group. Still, they were significantly lower in the group that added resistance training like squats, heel raises, push-ups, dumbbell movements, and walking up and down stairs.

The study's author and research team recommend that "three minutes of walking or simple body weight resistance exercise movements (at a light to moderate intensity) every 30 minutes of sedentary time may positively influence metabolic factors directly related to cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes."

The researchers' mantra: "Move 3 Every 30."

A nice walk after meals has been customary in many cultures for centuries. It's beneficial for healthy blood work and offers an opportunity to socialize with others in a neighborhood or town square. If you are in a more rural area, enjoying nature and some peace outside can be equally healthy.

These recommendations are not just for the sedentary who do not do physical activity, but ideal for the busy and fit person who already trains hard each day. These short bouts of minimal activity can aid digestion and ward off dementia, depression and some cancers for everyone who participates in short activities throughout the day.

The best part is for those who are sedentary: These short periods of moving are a gentle way to get started, but they also yield results to help you control or prevent diabetes, higher cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, and they strengthen bones and muscles.

This is not a 30-, 60- or 90-day challenge. Sure, you can set a start date and goal to continue this added movement to your life, but the ultimate goal is to build a solid habit during these first few weeks and months of the new year and keep it going for life.

You may work out 1-2 hours a day and be super fit, but you will grow older and need improved health screenings. Do not ignore annual health screenings or physical checkups. As we age, consider making new health and wellness goals by moving more, eating healthier and doing de-stressing activities.

These three additions to anyone's life can help you create positive results each year when your blood work is measured. Doing more frequent weigh-ins and blood-pressure checks should be an easy way to assess your progress throughout the year between checkups. Now that I am over 50, some of my favorite goals have been keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar and other health screening markers in check.

Here are some other ideas for you:

1. Get a standing desk

I use an adjustable one made by Ivation to stand for half of my workday and sit for the other half. I have found doing too much of either is not helpful for my back and hips.

2. Move more for mental health considerations

All forms of activity are helpful in the quest to improve both mental and emotional health. Read this related article.

3. More healthful ideas to start adding through the year

No need to start eating healthy, exercising, joining a gym or quitting smoking all in the same week. Spread these goals throughout the year and add a new one every month or quarter. Read this article for more ideas.

4. Stretch more

If you do not stretch, add light stretching as your physical activity spreads throughout the day. This alone will change your life -- I promise. Read this article on the topic.

5. Work hard to avoid ultra-processed foods

When snacking, consider eating something with a peel (like a piece of fruit), versus something you have to unwrap. Drink more water. Avoid sodas and sugary juices as much as possible. You will notice a big difference in how you feel. Read this article on the better food categories.

Bonus: Write down "Walk More in '24."

Post it somewhere it can be seen to remind you throughout the day to get up and move for a few minutes. Set a timer on your desk or watch to let you know when 30-60 minutes have elapsed so you can stay on top of it and build the healthiest habits. If you need ideas for other activities, including calisthenics, stretching, joint mobility and other resistance training ideas, go to our Military Fitness Center and check out the programs and hundreds of articles.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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