No time for the gym or for routine workouts? Is it true, as Salma Hayek claimed in People magazine, that you can stay toned and taut simply by "holding the body in a way that activates muscles all day"? If you have an active lifestyle, can you really skip regular exercise and still be healthy and fit?
It is true that once you have a foundation of fitness and the kinesthetic awareness of how to use your muscles, you can consciously activate them in your daily activities to engage the core, stabilize the shoulder blades, contract your glutes to squat, and your biceps to lift and carry. This is something we should all aim to do! You won't develop strength in the muscles but you can maintain a level of toning by contracting muscles at a low level of intensity. You'll also improve your posture, alignment and body mechanics.
- To engage your core and flatten your belly, "zip up" your abs as if you were zipping up a tight pair of jeans. Pull your navel in toward your spine and then up, lifting the pelvic floor. This move trains the deep abdominal muscle that lies right under your jean zipper.
- Stand up straight, rolling the shoulders down and back. Hold them there by engaging the muscles between the shoulder blades to anchor them and prevent a "forward slouch."
- Sit without support, using your core muscles to keep your spine tall, ribs stacked over the hips.
- When you bend and lift, use the large muscles of your legs – the glutes, quads and hamstrings – to squat down, keeping your back straight.
- When you are leaning forward, practice the "hip hinge," bending forward from the hips and not the waist. Keep your spine straight instead of rounding the upper back.
- Get up from any seated position without using your arms for support.
- When you brush your teeth, stand on one leg for balance and feel the muscles of that leg working to support you, especially in the ankles. Do both legs or focus on the weaker one.
In terms of overall fitness, using these simple techniques can help maintain muscle tone; however, in terms of health benefits, bear in mind that you are not building muscle strength or bone density, nor are you conditioning your cardiovascular system which is a key component of good health. Even if you are very active during long work days, if you are not elevating your heart rate and breathing levels you will not improve the function of the heart and lungs. Cardio activity aids in reducing your risk of disease and adds energy, stamina and longevity to your life. Plus it burns a lot of calories!
What else can you do if you have little to no time? At minimum, you can do simple body weight exercises like squats, push ups and the plank to condition the muscles for greater endurance. For cardio, incorporate 10-15 minutes of fast walking or stair climbing throughout the day to accumulate at least 30 minutes most days of the week.