02/26/2013 04:36 pm ET Updated Apr 28, 2013

A Small Change Can Make a Big Difference

Prior to the advancement of modern transportation, we depended on our own feet to get from one place to another. People did not have personal cars or the option to take taxis or buses. In order to buy basic items such as food, clothes and housing supplies, most people walked. Children often had to walk for miles each way to attend school. Health clubs and gyms, or what we now consider formal exercise, were uncommon as people were active by necessity.

Today, very little movement is needed to accomplish our daily errands. Technology has made our lives easier and more sedentary. Most items can be purchased by a few clicks on the computer, picking up the phone, or driving to the store.

Scientific studies have demonstrated repeatedly the tremendous health benefits of daily exercise including: cardio protection, reduction in weight and body fat, reduction in stress, improvement in bone density and better sleep. Activity used to be naturally incorporated into our daily routines. The challenge of our current generation is to find purposeful ways to move and exercise.

To many, the thought of exercise involves going to a gym and engaging in an intense activity, which can be inaccessible, expensive, and overwhelming. If we look back to prior generations, when people were more naturally active, we can incorporate their daily habits into today's world. Several examples include: 1) Walking or biking to work as opposed to driving; 2) climbing stairs instead of taking an elevator; and 3) taking a short walk around the block as a break during the day. In addition to cardiovascular benefits, these activities provide stress relief, which can also improve work productivity and sleep.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, the workplace is also an opportunity for people to be more active. If there was an exercise culture at work, where it was encouraged to take a little time throughout the day to move, it would transition people into more activity. Taking a brief walk after lunch, instead of sitting in the lunch room, would allow co-workers to exercise in addition to socializing. Making stairwells brighter and more enticing would encourage people to climb stairs as opposed to using the elevator. In larger companies, gyms are built on site, allowing people easy access to exercise facilities. Additionally, standing desks that move at a very slow pace keep people in constant motion all day, burning calories and creating more strength. These are just a few examples of how the workplace can truly help influence the way in which we use our body during our long days at work.

I recently treated a patient who exemplified the concept that a small change in activity level can make a big difference in health outcome. My patient was a very sedentary overweight individual who decided it was time for him to work on developing a healthier lifestyle. He started by walking one block each day. That block turned into two blocks. Then he added four flights of stairs. He also cut down his portions slightly. By the time I saw him six months later, he was walking 10 blocks and climbing eight flights of stairs a day, and he had lost 40 lbs. He was not going to the gym or running marathons, but just adding a small amount of activity to his daily life resulted in a tremendous outcome. Additionally, he felt he could sustain the changes he made and proud of his accomplishment.

A small change can make a big difference. What small change can you make in your life today?

For more by Monica O. Weinberg, MD., click here.

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