Before you get excited and think this is about potatoes and their many delicious cooked and processed forms, let me tell you that it’s not about potatoes. The exercising couch potato is an expression used to describe the common active but mainly sedentary lifestyle so many people live each day. These are the people who may workout in some way, shape or form on a regular basis only to spend the other 22+ hours of their day sitting or sleeping. This is a potential problem to those individuals’ health.
You’re probably thinking, but what about the fact that they’re meeting the ACSM’s adult minimum recommendations of physical activity each week (I’m sure you’ve heard of those before!)? How can that be a bad thing? The fact that they’re exercising is a good thing, of course — something is better than nothing. But the fact that they may have poor lifestyle habits and spend the other 22+ hours of the day sedentary is the issue at hand.
When you exercise consistently, your body will eventually begin to adapt by increasing your cardiovascular efficiency, strength and endurance; increasing your muscular strength; increasing bone/joint health; and decreasing your fat mass, to name a few. When you’re an exercising couch potato as described above, your sedentary lifestyle decreases your lean body mass and increases fat mass; it decreases your bone density; it decreases your flexibility; and it decreases your muscular strength, endurance, and power, to name a few. All of these factors are either improved or worsened depending on how good of a diet you consume when you’re training or not training.
I would equate the exercising couch potato to an overweight asthmatic individual trying to make his way up the wrong side of an escalator. He’s putting in a lot of effort and making some small progress during that short burst of exercise, but if he takes even a few moments (in the real world, days to weeks) off, the hard work he puts in to climb 10 vertical feet completely disappears and he’s back to square one – exhausted and frustrated. The only thing he gained is the experience of starting and quitting.
Most people know quitting too well. If you’re an exercising couch potato, the best advice I have for you (besides usually to eat healthier foods, of course) is to spend half of your efforts beginning the new exercise program or sticking to the one you’re currently on, and the other half of your efforts on the lifestyle habits that consume the rest of your day – in this case – decreasing the amount of time you spend sedentary and making smart food choices. Make sure you drink at least half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water per day. Cut back on liquid calories. Eat at least 3-5 servings of veggies and protein per day. Try standing at work when you don’t need to be seated or getting up to walk around for 1-2 minutes every 30-60 minutes. Take the stairs when you have the option. Try to park at the opposite end of the parking lot. Conduct a “walking meeting” with a coworker to get up and move. Any extra activity you can accumulate throughout the day will benefit you in the long run.
Hamilton, Marc T., et al. “Too little exercise and too much sitting: inactivity physiology and the need for new recommendations on sedentary behavior.” Current cardiovascular risk reports 2.4 (2008): 292-298.
Owen, N., et al. “Too much sitting: health risks of sedentary behavior and opportunities for change.” Res Digest 13 (2012): 2-11.