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Seniors Series: Keep moving to stay in shape -- from fingers to toes

How many calories do you burn in a rocking chair?

"How often do you exercise?" This question comes up every time a senior is face to face with a healthcare provider.

"Define exercise," he or she might reply.

Does the heart rate have to rise? Does yoga qualify? Yes. Exercise goes beyond huffing and puffing.

Regular physical activity is one of the most important activities older adults can do for their health, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It recommends combining moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, with muscle strengthening activities that work all the major muscle groups.

Each week, older adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, although if the activity is more intense, less time is needed. They also need muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days, which can include lifting weights, working with resistance bands, doing pushups, sit-ups and planks, or yoga.

Another tip to staying in shape and burning extra calories is to keep moving around -- tapping your fingers and toes and wriggling around in your seat, even though you may still hear your parents and teachers telling you to stop fidgeting. Play with a stress ball or rubber bands.

Studies at the Mayo Clinic found that people can burn up to 350 calories just by moving more during the day.

Don't conveniently place telephones, tissues and waste baskets near your chair -- make yourself get up for them. Standing burns more calories than sitting -- about 60 calories an hour. Try standing or walking around while you are on the phone. On average, 20 steps burns off one calorie.

Physician James Levine of the Mayo Clinic came up with a solution for those who spend hours of each day working at a desk -- he created the treadmill desk, and it is estimated that a person could lose 57 pounds a year using it. Treadmill desks are available commercially but can also be created on your own.

If your lifestyle entails a long stint in a chair each afternoon or evening, make it a rocking chair, which can burn up to 150 calories an hour, according to a website dedicated to natural healing. Rocking works the muscles in the thighs, and just 10 minutes of rocking can reduce one's blood pressure and improve the circulation.

Rocking can also release endorphins to raise your mood and reduce anxiety. The motion of a rocking chair makes a body maintain its momentum, helping its balance. And of course everyone of a certain age remembers President John F. Kennedy having a rocking chair in the Oval Office to strengthen his back.

Any physical activity is better than none at all, the CDC says, and health benefits increase with the amount of physical activity done.

Also -- don't forget to laugh: A hearty chuckle can raise your heart rate by 10-20% and burn up to 40 calories.

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