Nutrition-wise blog

Help for the couch potato

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. December 9, 2008

This is the last of 4 blogs that describe the new approach to battle obesity.  The theme is that weight control is much more than "eating less and exercising more."

It involves changing small but important eating, coping and exercise patterns. Thus far we've explored ways for you to get a handle on eating patterns and coping behaviors that lessen impulsive eating. Now we'll look at those activity patterns that keep you from moving more and losing those unwanted pounds — specifically ways to "get off the couch." 

Couch potatoes — do the following sound familiar?

"[I'm a] couch potato due somewhat to laziness and partly due to an inability to walk very far due to knee and back problems."

"I have a demanding full-time job. By the time I get home I just want to plop on the couch. I love to walk but can't in the mornings and am so tired in the evenings. Occasionally I walk at lunch.... Guess I should just suck up and do it."

"I hate exercise — so I do none. I do skip meals, probably because I feel guilty not doing exercises. I know better, right?"

Couch potatoes — if anyone tells you to exercise more, will you?  Not! Any health care provider who says to do so will turn you off.

It's important to recognize that the problem is not only the couch. Your entire lifestyle is sedentary. You sit for a living, you drive to work, you have a desk job, for fun you might read, play computer games or go to a movie. Someone else may clean your house and even mow your lawn. You might even have a dog that struggles with weight — right?

It's also important for you and your health care provider to recognize that you are not lazy. You have many demands on your time, and you may be tired. You may even have a medical condition that makes you wonder if exercise is safe — knee and back problems, lung and heart disease or high blood pressure. What to do? Here are four strategies that have been shown to help.

  • Discuss your health worries. Your health care provider can reassure you by setting realistic and safe goals. There is a difference between exercise and physical activity. Exercise is planned and structured (like going to the gym) whereas physical activity is any movement. However, both types can improve fitness, strength and flexibility while decreasing body fat. Both also pep you up. You don't need to sweat hard in order to reap the benefits physically and emotionally.
  • Move. The American Heart Association and American college of Sports Medicine recommends moderately-intense physical activity for 30 minutes a day, 5 days each week. The key words are physical activity (any movement) and moderately intense (enough to get your heart beating more, get a little sweaty, yet you still should be able to talk without gasping). Brisk walking fits this description perfectly. What's great about this is that you can spread your 30 minutes of physical activity throughout your day. For every hour you sit at your desk, get up and walk. Stand and pace while on the phone. Go talk to your colleague — we all get too much e-mail right? Clean-up your own kitchen, mow your lawn, and rediscover how much you and the dog love to walk together.
  • Journal your activity. Jot down your "extra" movements. It's rewarding to see improvements. One of the most effective gadgets made to help measure progress is the pedometer. It keeps track of your steps. Get your baseline, and realistically increase the number of steps you take weekly. A weekly increase between 250 to 500 steps works for most people. The ultimate long term goal for everyone — including couch potatoes — is 10,000 steps a day.
  • Get a buddy. Social support increases the chance that you will become and remain more physically active in the long run. It helps some people by promoting accountability, and it makes it more enjoyable. Remember, even your dog can be your buddy — those eyes will light up when you reach for the leash.

Which one of the four suggestions above do you think you can try? I'll watch for your responses. (Please stand at your keyboard while making them).

Remember — all activity counts. Aim for 30 minutes or more daily — even in shorter bursts. Ready? Set? Move!

- Jennifer

Dec. 09, 2008