How to stay active to keep you and your family healthy

If you manage to get outdoors often enough, that will certainly help with keeping fit.

Sadly, we can’t all find the time.

Unfortunately, the occasional foray into the outdoors is not sufficient to stay healthy.

Sure, it’s been well documented that just getting outside is restorative, but regular exercise is needed to keep yourself in good order.

Health Warning: Sitting Down is the New Smoking

Unfortunately for many of us, myself included, most of the week is spent sitting behind a desk or steering wheel.

The medical profession is quite concerned about our sedentary lifestyles.

I was talking to an NHS nurse recently, who had just attended a course on this. Too much sitting down is going to cause as many health problems as smoking was in the past, and a study showed that inactivity is twice as deadly as obesity.

Inactivity is twice as deadly as obesity

Even if we take an exercise class or go for a run at the weekend, we’re not immune from the effects of sitting down too long. Sure, those occasional bursts of energy are better than nothing, but scientists now understand that our bodies are designed to move regularly.

our bodies are designed to move regularly

Your health could be better even with regular gentle movement each day than if you sat down all week and had an intensive workout one day at the weekend.

Keep active! Our bodies are designed to move regularily.

So what can we do about it and how can we combine becoming more active with getting outdoors with our kids?

Tracking your steps

Our youngest with his pedometer

A simple start is to work out how many steps you do each day.

You need a pedometer for this, and you don’t need a very expensive one to get an indication of how many steps you do each day.

It’s said that the ‘average person’ should walk at least 10,000 steps every day.

In a study, a 10,000 exercise prescription resulted in weight loss over 36 weeks in previously sedentary adults.

10,000 steps sound a lot?

Well, it’s not actually, if you are out and about that is.

For example, when camping, I could do 3-4,000 steps by after breakfast, what with walking to the facilities, taking others to the facilities, and washing up.

You then combine that with say going for a walk, and a weekend like that I could easily be up to 20,000 to 30,000 steps. Sometimes much more.

10000 steps per day

The bad news? Well for me, some days, I hate to admit it, I don’t even make 2,000 steps.

These are days I have to spend sitting down for my job.

I knew I was spending too long sitting, but this was a real shock.

Buy or borrow a pedometer, and assess how much or how few steps you do.

If you have sedentary days like me, you need to do something about it.

Tips on Getting More Active

If you spend too long sitting, and you’re busy working at a desk, it can sometimes be hours before you are on your feet again.

You may have heard this advice before, but it’s good: get a timer to remind you to stand up and walk around.

OK, so a timer is not always that practical, and it’s easy to forget to set it.

I got an app for my phone that reminded me throughout the working day to stand up. The app I use is ‘Stand Up! The Work Break Timer‘.

Another valid bit of advice you’ve heard a million times already is to replace car journeys or lifts with walking instead.

If you are monitoring your steps with a pedometer, you’ll soon see a difference these little changes make, and you could soon find yourself up to the healthier 10,000 steps per day level.

If you have an iPhone you can change the settings of the Health app to track your steps.

Tips for Staying Active with your Kids

  • Walk more. Try to walk at least 10,000 steps per day.
  • If you are close enough to walk to school, then do it.
  • Take the stairs instead.
  • Don’t always take the shortest route. Those extra few steps can count.
  • Make it a family habit to get outside together for one of the days at the weekend.
  • Think about ways you can make changes at home (see our example below).
  • Get the kids to help with housework.
  • Park your car a little further away.
  • Get you kids pedometers and have a family step challenge.

How little changes at home can help

Standing not sitting when playing Lego

Have a look at the way you live at home.

Our youngest loves playing Lego. We’d end up with it all over the floor in front of the TV.

A solution we found was to get a coffee table that was big enough for him to build his Lego on, and it has shelves underneath to store the boxes of bricks.

Why is this relevant? Well, now he stands up to build his Lego instead of sitting on the floor.


Can’t convince the kids?

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Tracking Other Activities by Going Beyond the Pedometer

To be honest, I never got on too well with the pedometer.

I’d forget to wear it, or I’d forget to record my steps. It just wasn’t working out for me, even when my work introduced a ‘step challenge’ that had daily reminders to record the steps I’d taken. I was just too busy, and it got forgotten.

Forgot to Log Steps

In the end, I turned to a more technical solution.

Here’s what has helped me get more active

Now going more technical is not always the answer, but, in this case, it worked a treat, and a year on, and I’m still using it.

What did I get? Well, I’m using a FitBit Charge, and you may have seen it on my wrist in many of the videos we made this year.

In fact, it was so good, I bought Shell one too, and we can now keep each other accountable, as well as the occasional step-challenge between us, to help make sure we’re both keeping active.

Now these aren’t cheap, and not the answer for everyone, but I had heard great things about them, and it’s lived up to expectations.

Easy Step Tracking that Works

The FitBit Charge sits on your wrist like a watch. In fact, it is a watch too, so I wear it every day as my watch. So, the problem I had in the past of forgetting to put the pedometer on is now solved.

The FitBit works with the FitBit app that you install on your phone.

It keeps track of your steps, and syncs it with your phone. It now automatically logs how many steps you’ve taken each day.

Problem two solved. I no longer have to remember to record my steps each day.

With all that data on your phone, it can show you how many steps you take over the week. And if you want, you can even dive into the data and see what time of day you are most active. Though I find just the daily tracking is sufficient.

You can also set a daily steps goal, and it suggests 10,000 steps as the daily goal. It will tell you when you’ve reached your goal.

When you do, the FitBit on your wrist will vibrate and display a message.

After all this time of wearing it, it’s still nice to be congratulated when you reach that 10,000 step goal.

Tracking More Than Just Your Steps

Meeting your goals with the FitBit app

So far, it sounds just like a rather fancy high-tech pedometer.

And, well, it is. But it does a lot more too.

You can track how far you’ve walked each day with a daily target too.

Tracking how far you’ve climbed

It will track how many floors you’ve climbed. Again, with a daily goal.

BTW, when walking on the hills, you can easily get up to the equivalent of 100 floors.

Tracking how many calories you’ve burnt

By providing your age, sex, height, and weight, it can calculate how many calories you’ve used. Again, with a daily goal (you seeing the theme yet?).

Tracking how active you’ve been

It records the total daily number of ‘active minutes’. You should be consistently active for many minutes each day to be healthy. There’s a goal for this too.

Tracking exercise, not just walking or running

You can track activity. The FitBit app has replaced the app I have been using for years: Map My Run, Map My Ride, and Map My Walk.

It can plot the route you take on a map and calculate all the vital statistics, and record them against your daily targets.

You can even record other workouts. If you go swimming for example (the FitBit Charge isn’t waterproof, so you can’t take it in the pool), then it’s possible to record how long and how far you swam. FitBit will then calculate the likely calories you burnt and allocate you the equivalent amount of effort in steps.

You can top-up your daily activity target with a mixture of activities, not just walking.

How many stairs

Tracking your weight

You can track your weight and your body fat percentage if you have a way of recording it. (I believe FitBit do some scales to talk automatically to the FitBit app, but we don’t have those).

You can set a long term weight loss, or even weight gain, goal.

Tracking how many calories consumed (and when you can eat that piece of cake!)

Tracking the amount you eat against your activity level

You can record the amount of calories you’ve eaten.

If you have set the FitBit up to record your long term weight loss goal, it will calculate your target calories for each day, automatically adjusting it for the amount of activity you’ve done.

That’s very smart and not something you can easily do if you are doing calorie counting yourself.

It also makes sure you eat enough. Diets that work by depriving your body of too many calories have been proven not to work. As soon as you stop this fasting, you put the weight back on.

Instead, the FitBit encourages a method that is likely to provide better long-term results by combining weight loss with exercise and making sure you don’t eat too many calories for your activity level.

I’ve looked at apps to track calories in the past, but I found you had to spend too long entering calorie information as their database of food was for the US only.

I’ve found the FitBit app the best at this so far.

You can easily search for food. It even has supermarket own-brand food such as Asda, Morrisons, and Sainsbury’s.

If you have the packet with the barcode, the app can scan the barcode and find the food for you. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it saves time.

You still, of course, have to remember to log your food but as remembers what you eat often, this is quick and easy.

Although we should always be eating healthily, this app has also told me when I could have that occasional treat like a piece of cake as it tracks how many more calories I can eat each day. No more feeling guilty 🙂

But it’s not just about losing weight. It’s about avoiding putting it on too.

A research study found that our appetites do not decrease when we spend all day sitting down not expending energy. In other words, our body’s will tell us to eat the same amount of food when we’re sitting down as when we’re burning energy, leading to an ‘energy surplus’, which in turn can lead to weight gain.

The fact that the FitBit tracks your energy expenditure against the food you are eating means you can avoid the ‘energy surplus’ on the days you are forced to be sedentary.

Treats are allowed

 

Tracking your sleep quality

Keeping track of how well you sleep

Another little trick is the ability to track how well you’ve slept.

A good night’s sleep is essential to restore both mind and body. We all know what a bad night feels like, but do you really know how well you are sleeping.

The FitBit Charge detects your night time movements and determines the number of times you were awake or just disturbed.

I wasn’t that surprised to see that I don’t sleep too well.

Once again, there’s a goal you can set. By default, it is set to eight hours, but you can adjust this if you like.

Improving the quality of your sleep

Well, there’s lots of good advice for improving your sleep quality. The most common one is to wind down before bed and get off phones and tablets.

Another, and again, ‘common sense’, is to be less sedentary and exercise more.

In a controlled trial, typically sedentary adults were given 30 to 40 minutes of low impact aerobic exercise or brisk walking over a 16 week period. Nothing too strenuous.

After this period, they reported both better quality sleep and the ability to fall asleep quicker.

So, if you meet your step and activity goals, you should improve your sleep goal too (subject to kids waking you up, of course!).

Get Active to Sleep Better

Is a FitBit Worth It?

As you can tell, we like our FitBits. They work for us. They work when we are at work. They work when we are outdoors. They work when we are playing with the kids.

They just work.

The only negative I have about the FitBit Charge is that the strap fastening could be more secure. These are expensive, and I don’t want it to fall off my wrist.

I have seen some pictures of new FitBits with better straps so they may have addressed this issue.

After a year of lots of activities, mine is now looking a little worn, but still working fine.

They are also not waterproof. If you forget to take it off when washing up, you could be very disappointed.

The FitBits are rechargeable. I find you have to recharge it every three or four days. It doesn’t take long to recharge.

So there are other options out there. I do believe the uber-expensive Apple Watch does some similar things. However, the FitBit Charge has worked well for us, and we do recommend it if you want to track how active or inactive your lifestyle is.

Take Action. Get Active!

The Techno solution has worked well for us.

You don’t have to solve it with technology, though. You need to find your own solution for reminding you to keep active.

Get Active Get Outside


References and More Info

Do you want to dig into this topic more? Here are some links of more info around the net.

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Father to 3 kids, who loves getting out and about (hiking, running, camping, cycling, canoeing...) Co-founded Get Out With The Kids to help other parents enjoy the outdoors with their family.

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