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Spare-time activity curbs workplace idleness

Daily activities outside work may make up for sedentary hours in the office

by Kris Stouffer

Daily activities outside of work may make up for sedentary hours in the office, new School of Public Health research finds.

Researchers report that Minneapolis-St. Paul residents are expending significantly more energy through leisure activities than they were five years ago. As much as 70 percent of energy expended was on "personal lifestyle activities" that ranged from gardening and housework to biking and running.

That's good news, considering the same study found that the percentage of Twin Cities residents who sit for the majority of their work day increased from 57 percent to 71 percent since 1980.

"Physical activity has decreased over the past 20 years in the work place, which makes it difficult for people to meet daily exercise recommendations," says SPH assistant professor Lyn Steffen, lead researcher of the study. "But people can help fill the gap by participating in activities that are part of a daily routine, like walking their dog, playing with their kids, doing yard work, and cleaning."

In the study's most recent survey, only 20 percent of women and 30 percent of men were meeting the one hour of daily physical activity recommended by the Institute of Medicine. While the total hours spent exercising increased from 1980 to 2000 people still are not exercising enough, says Steffen.

Even simple things, like taking the stairs, parking your car away from the building and walking briskly are sources of physical activity, Steffen says. "Reengineering our culture and environment to include more opportunities for physical activity would go a long way to making our daily routines healthier."