My Home-Based Mini-Exercise Regimen

I often wonder how much, if any, impact our posts on Obesity Panacea have on the lives of our readers.

For instance, how often does a reader use the information we provide to alter their lifestyle in some positive way? (Feel free to answer this question in the comments below).

I have less often wondered how the practice of bringing new content to our readers has influenced the way Travis and I live our lives. But a recent change in my lifestyle illustrates that this latter scenario does happen.

Not too long ago, Travis did an excellent series on the science behind sedentary physiology. In essence, Travis described the negative health effects brought on by prolonged periods of sedentary time – such as those periods sitting at one’s desk typing away on a keyboard.

I have been aware for some time that one can be a regular exerciser but be otherwise sedentary – picture someone who sits at their desk for 8 hours, drives to the gym to do 30 minutes of cardio, and drives home to eat dinner and watch television for the remainder of the night before going to bed. In a nutshell, such a person is sedentary for 23.5 hrs of each day, but exercises for 30 mins each day. Sadly, such an individual would actually, albeit just barely, meet the minimum recommended amount of physical activity. But, according to the research Travis discussed, they would be far from healthy.

As I now largely work from home, and am not within walking distance of much of anything other than the lake and woods (picturesque, sure, but not very convenient), I realized I was becoming a sedentary exerciser. I even drove to the gym!

Then Travis did his sedentary physiology series and I was nudged to make a change in my current lifestyle.

What did I do?

Essentially, I decided (completely arbitrarily) that I would do mini exercise breaks throughout my workday, with the daily goal of reaching 450 repetitions of whatever random movement popped into my head at each break.

When I first started – some 3 weeks ago now, I would do 3 different exercises per break for 30 repetitions per exercise. I would thus need to have 5 mini exercise breaks throughout the day to get to 450 total repetitions.

The exercises I do are rather random, and I’m almost positive my neighbors who have passed by the house while I was ‘exercising’ rightfully think I’m nuts.

My ‘equipment’ consists of a floor mat, a 10lb medicine ball, 2 10 L plastic water jugs, stairs, and a lot of randomness. If nothing else, this new approach has certainly made me more creative with my exercises.

My only rule thus far is that I never do the same exercise more than once on a given day – which means I need at least 15 different exercises. Also, I try and balance with a 1:1:1 ratio exercises that focus on upperbody: core: lower body, though I aim for full-body movements when possible.

Other than convincing my neighbours, and likely my fiancée, of my insanity, I also find this method keeps me mentally sharp throughout the entire day. I would normally crash a bit after lunch and then later on in the afternoon, and I’d also often struggle right in the morning. Now I just do a few exercises and I am wide awake and ready to focus.

Also, I tend to drink more water throughout the day, which is good on its own, but also forces me to go to the washroom more frequently – again interrupting my sedentary time. Thus, on the whole I doubt I ever spent more than 1 straight hour at my desk.

While doing pushups and lunges at the office may generate more attention than you’re comfortable with, you can easily do a quick break of walking the stairs, or walking around the office, every hour or so to achieve a similar outcome.

As I am keeping track of the exercises and repetitions I’ve been doing for the past few weeks, I will likely discuss this topic again in the near future. I have actually not renewed my gym membership for the first time in about 6 years as I want to see how this home-based mini-exercise break routine works out on its own. To be honest, on most days, by the time I’m finished my 450 reps I’m too knackered to want to go to the gym. On the other hand, I do miss the intensity and difficulty of my regular gym workouts.

Whoa – it’s time for my next exercise break! Walking water jug bicep curls, here I come!

Anyone have a similar routine?

Peter

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64 Responses to My Home-Based Mini-Exercise Regimen

  1. Michele says:

    The series on sedentary physiology got my attention too. I have started wearing a pedometer in addition to doing my usual 30 minutes on the treadmill. (I find I need that intense cardiovascular workout.) Now I try for at least 7,000 steps a day plus my workout. To reach the 7,000 steps, I have to get up and move during the day and avoid the sofa after I get home from work. I find the house is staying cleaner these days…

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    • That is wonderful, Michele! Travis and I went through a phase of competing with our pedometer counts. Unfortunately, seeing as Travis runs long distances daily, he usually came out on top. Nevertheless, we both averaged above 15k steps each day, which was pretty good.

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  2. Scicurious says:

    Actually, you guys are the ones who started me weight training. I kept hearing and hearing about how I needed it, but you two convinced me. :)

    I’m hoping that racing around the lab helps my sedentary time! Mr. S just got a chinup bar for the house that we hope will help as well.

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    • That makes me VERY happy to hear, Sci. Also, a pull-up bar is wonderful. I don’t, technically, have a pull up bar at the current residence but I’ve figured out a decent alternative. Pull-ups, chin-ups, hanging leg raises – some of my favourites.

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  3. Scott says:

    Great idea for those of us who work at home. Your 15 rotating exercises sounds good. Link to a page suggesting some?

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    • Hi Scott,

      Here are some of my favourites. The issue is some of the exercises are tough to describe and make little sense to anyone other than me, so I will skip those.

      Walking lunges (I carry two 10L water jugs as I do them)
      Push-ups (I have many variations – feet up on a chair, hands between two chairs to allow a greater range of motion)
      Supermans (back extension)
      King’s chair (ab crunches on a chair – google this)
      Single leg squats onto a chair (can also add resistance)
      Single leg deadlifts with some weights
      Pull-ups if you can find somewhere to do this
      Hanging-leg raises
      Bunch of random movements with a medicine ball – you can google wide variations of exercises.

      Come to think of it, I think I should document with pictures all the nutty exercises I do, as it may be easier to explain.

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  4. That is cool ! I am lucky enough to have a gym right below my office. Although I am not there everyday, I am trying to exercise as often as possible.

    This being said, after having read Owen’s papers and Travis series, I am just unable to read papers on sedentary physiology at the office anymore…I need to read it on a bike !!!

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    • I totally agree – just becoming more cognizant of not sitting for too long at any one time has made me fidgety beyond 1.5 hrs of sedentary time. I simply have to get up and do something.

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  5. Sophie says:

    This is really interesting Peter, both your approach but also drawing our attention to this idea of the sedentary exerciser too. I’ve been wondering about this for a little while now – so many people I know (myself included) have that lifestyle of doing reasonably vigorous exercise at certain points during the week but spending most of the rest of the week deskbound, and I’ve been wondering if this is better for us than just moving more in our everyday lives and not doing actual ‘exercise’.

    I’m off to have a proper read the sedentary physiology series now.

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    • Thanks for the kind words, Sophie. It was that notion – the sedentary exerciser – that really sealed the deal for me as well. I was once of the mindset that if I went to the gym for an hour I was done for the day.

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  6. Dirk Hanson says:

    What I learned from you guys is that it’s okay to sit, it’s just not okay to sit all the time. So I’ve started arranging things in a way that requires me to bounce up from my desk at various intervals for 15 minute chore breaks–watering all the house plants, filling the bird feeders, vacuuming one room, making coffee, getting something out of the garage, taking a brief walk, whatever. I used to pride myself on my ability to sit in one place without moving for hours at a time. Now I’m thinking maybe that’s not such a terrific talent to have.

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    • That is a fantastic idea, Dirk. Essentially you break from desk work to get some activity into your day and be productive in another way – I really like that idea. I think my fiancee would very much like my adopting this alternative routine to take care of the chores:) Then again, those water jugs won’t hoist themselves…

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  7. Smeddley says:

    I do a lot of little mini-exercises while at my desk, from the Twittercise recommendations (I particularly like their ‘Bakery Trucks’). I also like to get up and pace when I’m on the phone, if possible (this also helps rreduce stress if the phone call is not particularly a happy one).

    There are a bunch of belly dance moves you can work into your day, as well, from a few belly rolls, chest lifts and slides, or snake arms while seated, to doing a shimmy walk (instead of an easy stroll) to the coffee machine or bathroom. And things like practicing hand ripples can also help your hands and wrists, especially iif you have joint problems from too much typing!

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    • Yes, Twittercise is awesome! For those not aware – check Twitter for @twittercise a Twitter account run by a friend, Ron Doyle.

      Maybe I will try to add some of your exercises into my routine – variety is the spice of life! I will really have to ensure the windows are covered when I try these more provocative exercises:)

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  8. Jojo says:

    I had already incorporated a good bit of up and down and all around into my work day, so the series on sedentary living helped to keeping me going with my approach. Where you guys have really made a difference for me is in resistance training. You called women out on preferring cardio to resistance, and that is me all the way. My husband has been after me about it for a while, and with you guys piling on I’ve changed my workout routine. In fact, my fitness goals last year was based on total miles, and this year I changed it to minutes instead, so that my goal doesn’t conflict with my need to get out the weights.

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    • Thank for the comment, Jojo, and glad we could help. I’m thinking of doing a similar post on the gender difference in preference to type of exercise. Such an interesting social pattern of exercisers.

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  9. Lance Davidson says:

    As usual, Peter, you are creative and a great example to me. I’m now considering installing a pullup bar in my office and bringing in a few dumbbells for “workout” breaks. Thanks for the practical addition to Travis’s stimulating post!

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    • Lanceman!!!! So good to hear from you! Glad to see you are still following the blog. I’ve been putting off buying dumbbells as a small part of me is really liking the logistical challenge of trying to maintain my fitness with what one can find around the house. It would certainly make my life easier, and further expand my exercises, but I told myself that for a solid month I will only do random stuff around the house without any real equipment. As I said above, the pull-up bar is essential.

      All the best to you, Aimee, and the kids in the new year!

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  10. Cecilia says:

    I’m not sure how I opriginally found you, but I look forward to your posts–especially those with practical information, like this one on your mini-workouts. I am definitey on my rear end most of the day, and appreciate this post more than you know. I’ve been trying to think of ways to break up the time I must be seated with short bits of time when I can move–and not get bored with whatever I decide to do. I think you’ve come up with a great solution, and one that I will begin implementing immediately. Thanks!!

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  11. Otto J Hunt says:

    Finally an advantage to being ADD – I have never been able to sit still for very long.
    Having had a bad bike accident riding home from the gym (broken ribs, clavicle, punctured lung), I have to be extra creative about exercise until I finish healing up.

    Otto

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  12. I’m elderly, semi-retired, healthy. Your posts have definitely had an effect. My exercise routine has been distributed throughout the day for a while, but because of your posts on sedentary physiology, I’m increasing their frequency. Thanks!

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  13. freeman dennis says:

    i have definitely incorporated things from the web site into my daily activities. i also have been putting in random treadmill walks of a few min. throughout the day. also i find the web sites you provide links to very helpful and have incorporated things from them. i am retired and have pretty much freedom to schedule my time but the sedentary series helped me a lot.

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  14. Sue says:

    Your articles helped me – more than a year ago – become aware of staying active all day, instead of sitting for hours. After your post about how automated text messages helped people lose weight and keep it off, I signed up with a service that texts me several times a day, reminding me to eat healthy or just “get up and walk around!”

    What will become of your original site, obesitypanacea.com? Are you going to move all the articles here eventually?

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  15. jdhughes says:

    What a great concept – one I use to utilse with my clients back in my personal trainer days, and one I still utilise on my unsuspecting students during lectures! It injects some variety to the routine of the day but also allows people to really think about how they can make a lifestyle change as opposed to a ‘quick fix’.

    Plus it allows me to get a quick workout in a busy day of lecturing!!!

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    • That is a great idea. I have always respected those who practice what they preach – regardless of the ridicule and odd looks they may receive:) I must try this when lecturing – just break into some lunges while talking.

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  16. tideliar says:

    Excellent post and a great post holiday reminder to get moving again. One I did when I worked in a nearly empty building (very important for this) was stair running and shadow boxing. Plus everytime you walk, you walk on tip toe.

    So, qualifier, I’m a kickboxer… so tip toes does your gastrocs, stairs does cardio and thighs and glutes if you double/triple step fast. And shadow boxing (30s fast/floor) is great cardio.

    But…it helps if there’s no one around :)

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    • LOL – You make a key point here, tideliar. Having no one around also allows me to get ever more creative with my exercises. When my fiancee is home, I tend to tone down the ‘crazy’ exercises and stick to the ‘more-or-less’ normal routine.

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  17. amby burfoot says:

    Peter: Fun post. Creativity is great, especially for those who are young and working at home. For those of us in the office, and older, it’s less about creativity and more about ease, consistency, and most-bang-for-least hassle. As you suggest, I simply get out of my office and walk around the perimeter of the building much more than I used to, also going up and down several flights of stairs in our 3-story office building. When standing at my reading desk, I often stand on just one foot, and then the other.
    I keep hoping someone will develop a stationary-bicycle desk. It seems so obvious, and so much easier than treadmill walking desks. Even though bicycling is still sitting, and will still require walking breaks, its seems the oh-so-simple way to exercise and desk-work at the same time.

    then we’ll have to debate the various positions–

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    • Barb Roseman says:

      If you haven’t seen the surfshelf, an attachment for exercise equipment that will allow a small laptop to fit, please look it up. I work from home and attached it to my recumbent bike and try to spend an hour or more per day doing work from the bike. This allows me to be somewhat more active when it’s too cold to walk outside.

      I like the idea of taking quick breaks several times throughout the day. I try to get up at least once an hour, but it can be hard when you’re in a quiet house and no one’s there to interact with. When I go into our offices, I usually walk around and check in with others who I don’t see all the time, so that gets me up and about.

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    • Thanks kindly for the comment, Amby. As another commenter pointed out – the bike desks do exist. I also had a friend to simple threw her ironing board over her handle bars and worked that way.

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  18. Thomas says:

    http://www.bodyrock.tv
    you are welcome, Peter ;)

    although i have no clue how she has her downstairs neighbours under control. How do you manage that?

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    • Kerry says:

      I second Bodyrock! I utilize her workouts when I travel to places without a good workout room. I also use some of her moves in between heavy weight sets as an active rest routine (8 reps weights – 30 seconds of high-intensity exercise from Bodyrock).

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  19. Andy says:

    Your series on sedentary lives effected me a bunch. I work a desk job and do olympic style weightlifting as a hobby. I eat copious amounts of meat, workout ~1.5 hours 4 days a week, and only do conditioning, or cardio if my body fat is starting to get out of hand. The people in serious lifting communities will tell you that this is a healthy lifestyle and that we are active and eating whole foods, but sometimes I wonder. I mean my workouts are basically individual moments of sheer intensity followed by a lot of resting between reps or sets. I absolutely hate conditioning, and cardio, so I rarely do it. I eat over a pound of beef a day, and that is a minimum.

    Still I get check ups fairly often, and all the “standard” measures of health (cholesterol, blood pressure, resting heart rate, etc.) Place me at very healthy.

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  20. Nat says:

    I have a desk job which I work standing up, purely because it’s more comfortable for me to type that way. I take a few “sit breaks,” where I work sitting down if my legs get tired, but generally I spend 4-6 hrs per day standing instead of sitting. Is standing to work really that much better than sitting? I do notice that I fidget and move around a lot more than I used to when I worked sitting down.

    I don’t take exercise breaks. And I don’t get much exercise in the winter in general. And, in the evening, I spend about 1 hour cooking, then I like to like down and surf me some internet! Standing to work is about it for me. Am I *really* better off than a co-worker who sits for 8 hours at work, then after work, runs for 1 hour ?

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  21. nora says:

    If you’re not familiar with basic strength training exercises, or you are accustomed to using gear and/or machines, just search ‘bodyweight exercises’ or ‘prison workout’ and you’ll get a lot of good ideas for exercises that can be done in your basic cube farm setting.

    Add a few flights of stairs if you’re in a building with stairs, and you’re good to go!

    Extra bonus if you have a sit-stand workstation and a pair of headphones with a bluetooth connection or a long cord: Dance!!!!

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  22. Rhodia says:

    There’s a product called Fitdeck, which is basically a deck of cards, each card having a different exercise on it. What you can do with it is something like shuffle the cards and draw 3 cards once every hour or so, or whatever frequency and number of cards floats your boat. I really like the idea: each workout is random and different from the last. I imagine you could do the same thing with homemade cards. I have the basic deck (bodyweight exercises only). It would also be good for travelling as the exercises could be done in your hotel room.

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    • Thanks for that Rhodia – that sounds fantastic! For my personal workouts – the gym based ones – I have been doing the random thing for some time. I have an excel spreadsheet of exercises which I then randomly select to make up that days routine. But these cards seem like a wonderful idea – and as you say – perfect for traveling. I may have to invest!

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  23. Blake says:

    For those of us who have developed “forward head” (a.k.a., “computer stare”) from all of the years spent hunched over our desks staring into our monitors, focusing on exercises to strengthen the back and reverse the hunch might be helpful. For example, my physical therapist has me doing some wall and floor exercises which feel absolutely wonderful as a break from my desk. One such exercise is a full-body stretch against the wall with back and back-of-head pressed against the wall and arms raised with the backs of the hands pressing into the wall (it took a while before I was able to reach the wall, and I got there via some preparatory exercises).

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  24. Lynxreign says:

    I read an article of yours back when you were on Scienceblogs about taking the stairs instead of the elevator. I now always take the stairs when I’m going up fewer than 5 flights (when stairs are available). I’m working up to 6 flights as I work on the 6th floor, but I always park on the 3rd floor of the parking garage even when spaces are available lower down.

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  27. Kermit says:

    I’m the IT department at work, so I spend most of my time in front of the computer. But I often find myself fast walking to the other end of the lumber mill, which covers a bit of ground to deal with a trouble-maker computer. I don’t point out to folks that I could usually log in remotely; I’d rather walk there.

    And puttering around in the garden somwtimes means two hours of digging…

    At home, I’m a martial artist, and have a central room in the house void of furniture. Hard to walk through to the kitchen without grabbing a training toy and doing a few drills for three minutes or so. The garage has the heavy bag, speed bag, wooden dummy, power cage, and dumbbell rack – the garage door is right next to the fridge. I always wondered if sixty minutes of exercise broken up over the day was worth sixty altogether. Glad to see some research on this.

    BTW, my fellow office workers inspire me… several are my age (about sixty) and in terrible shape. I’ve brought the subject up as gently as possible, but nobody has ever asked me what I do specifically or what I think they should do :(

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  28. Carol says:

    The series on sedentary physiology got my full attention. In the evenings I used to sit using the computer/ watching TV for hours on end; now I get up every 30 minutes or so and run down the stairs and back up. (Or just get some easy chores completed.) But I don’t sit for hours at a time.

    I changed to a standing desk at work last year and love it. Now I am inspired by this blog to throw in some exercises every so often throughout the day. Lots of good ideas in the comments section as well on how to exercise in a small work space that I’ll follow up with. I’ve challenged myself to do the “100 push-ups” challenge this year.

    I think this blog is effective because the concepts are presented in an easy to understand style – - not dumbed down, but clearly described. Thanks!!

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  29. steve neff says:

    What a great (and fun!) thread…I read something awhile back about the ill-effects of sitting too much , and one solution I try to do is make a point of standing when I’m taking the bus or the subway. With the bus in particular, I figure it takes a certain amount of ab stability to keep from falling down as it lurches around the streets of San Francisco. Sometimes I try alternating standing on one foot or the other.

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  30. Jenny Evans says:

    Hi Peter,

    Kudos to you and Travis on a well-written site. It’s a great resource for quality science as well as great interpretations and discussions of what it all means. I travel and speak to corporate execs on the connection between movement, engagement, energy and productivity and so much of your work supports what we recommend to clients. Once they start incorporating moving little and often as well as short but intense workouts they are hooked! I even went so far as to create a product that gives a cardiovascular and resistance training workout as the same time just using your own body weight that you can do any time, any where. Hit the Deck consists of a deck of 35 fitness cards and interval timer that allow you to mix and match short/long, intense/easy workouts. Set the timer, draw your first card, do as many reps as you can, and when the timer beeps draw your next card. Do a couple of cards every hour to break up the monotony or go through the entire deck a couple of times to get a high intensity workout. You can see it at http://www.powerhousehitthedeck.com. Would love to send you one if you’re interested!

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    • Hi Jenny – this product also looks quite promising! As I’m a glutton for punishment, I’d be more than happy to try the cards out and hopefully add some variety to my random routine. Please contact me at peter at obesitypanacea dot com and we can arrange.

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  32. I’m really enjoying reading you guys! My challenge is that I am not a fidgeter — in fact, when I’m in front of the computer it’s far too easy for me to tune out and end up sitting for 2-3 hours. One thing that has helped is a (Mac) widget called 3-2-1. You enter the period of time you want to work without interruption and start the timer. When time is up, it freezes your screen and flashes a pre-set message. (Mine is “Take a break!”) I have mine set for 50 mins, to ensure I get up and move at least briefly once an hour. Next challenge is using that 10 mins productively and not just walking to the kitchen and back…

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    • Thanks for the kind words, Maryn! Despite being a fidgeter myself I also had set up a similar program a year or so ago on my computer to remind myself to get up and do something. Unfortunately, I found that I would often get up on my own accord when I hit a mental roadblock or that the program would suggest I take a break just as I got on a roll with my work. As you might imagine, the programmed approach didn’t last very long for me. I tend to do better just going on my natural fidgety schedule. But I’m glad the program works for you!

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    • I also can lose track of time when researching, studying, commenting, writing articles, etc. It also really helps me to use a timer application on my Mac (never figured out the dashboard), set it for, say, 20 minutes and allow myself two periods of five-minute “snoozes” if I’m in the middle of something. Then, I get up, walk around, go up and down the stairs, do a short Tai Chi form, etc. Then back to work

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  33. Aimstar says:

    Thanks for the info. The data is very good. To begin a serious study.

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  34. Andy Schneit says:

    Thanks for the article and everyone’s comments.

    Since I work from home right now, I’ve started substituting 5 – 10 minute exercise breaks through the day in place of one or two of my 30 minute conditioning workouts (usually done twice weekly).

    I’m interested in discovering whether it results in the same amount of conditioning if I do the same volume of exercise, just spread over the day. Peter, is your volume of 450 reps/day equivalent to what you did in the gym?

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  40. I run a graphic and website business from home and, apart from when I’m networking or distributing magazines, I tend to spend most of each day (including weekends) at my desk or with my laptop in front of me.

    I get very achy in my joints (I’m only 47) and recently noticed that I’d lost some weight but didn’t really look any different. I began worrying my muscles were shrinking. So, I brought my stereo up to my bedroom (which is near my office) and periodically put on music and dance to 2 or 3 tracks. But I get so engrossed in work I forget to get up.

    I also started using some 4 lb weights but still I’d forget. But then I realized, don’t laugh, that the best way to remember to use them, was to put them in the bathroom. I started with 10 reps per visit, but now I’m up to 40 reps per visit. I like your idea of drinking more water… that’ll get me visiting the bathroom more often.

    But I realize that’s not enough, so I’m now looking for ideas to get me away from my desk, and that’s how I came across your website. Thanks for the tips… I like your idea of doing 3 different exercises 5 times a day… I just need something to remind me to get up and do them.

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  41. Pingback: Moderate Exercise makes you Happier – if you’re Middle Aged | Happiness Today

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