Dr. Graham A. ColditzALTON - Here’s a secret about physical activity that you should know and share: Even a small amount can give your health a boost.

And that can be really important, maybe even inspiring, to hear. Especially these days. Studies have found that many people have reduced their physical activity during the pandemic. It’s easy to see why, with stay-at-home orders, safety restrictions at gyms and recreation centers, and the general upending of everyday life, including how we work, pick up kids from school and run errands.

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While there’s evidence we’re returning to more regular amounts of activity, the delta variant and halting rates of vaccination mean our daily lives are likely to be disrupted to a degree for some time.

But one thing we know about physical activity and health – whether it’s during a pandemic or not – is that we don’t need to get high levels of activity to start seeing benefits. Any movement you can add to your day or week is worth doing. And some of the biggest health gains can come when going from getting little or no regular activity to some activity.

So, take the pressure off yourself. You don’t need to wait to be inspired to train for a marathon, or until your schedule lets you fit in 10,000 steps a day, or until the pandemic is over. Just do whatever you can right now. And with cooler September temperatures and fall work and school schedules kicking into gear, it’s a great time to try fun and creative ways to add extra movement to your days.

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Here are five ideas to get you started:

  • Park at the far end of the lot to get extra steps to the store
  • Set a timer to remind yourself to stand up and take a brief walk every hour, even if it’s just around your desk or living room
  • Stream a five-minute video about stretching or any other light activity you might want to try, like chair yoga or tai chi
  • Walk with your kids to the bus stop or from the parking lot to the school
  • Take the stairs next time you need to go up or down a floor or two

Simple efforts like these can naturally build on each other and just become part of your routine. They don’t cost a thing, and the more activity you get, the more benefits you receive.

Current guidelines set a higher goal of 2½ hours or more of moderate physical activity each week because studies have found, at these levels, we see most of the health benefits. This regular activity can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer, and can boost our energy level, mood and overall quality of life today and in the future.

While that amount of activity is always a great goal, adding small amounts of movement to our days is a great place to start and worthwhile on its own. To quote from a campaign promoting the latest “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans”:

“Do what you can. Even five minutes of physical activity has real health benefits.”

Dr. Graham A. Colditz, associate director of prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is an internationally recognized leader in cancer prevention and the creator of YourDiseaseRisk.com, a free, personalized tool for helping people reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. An epidemiologist and public health expert, he has a long-standing interest in the preventable causes of disease. Colditz has a medical degree from The University of Queensland and a master’s and doctoral degrees in public health from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Alton Memorial Hospital is a member of the Siteman Cancer Network.

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