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updated: 4/21/2014 9:44 AM

Exercise is possible even while sitting on a couch

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Q: I'm a couch potato. Can I exercise without getting off my couch?

A: Every month the evidence grows stronger: The more time you spend sitting, the greater your risk of developing various serious illnesses. Most of our ancestors -- going back thousands of years -- were a lot more physically active than most of us are today. They had to be: their survival depended on it.

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So I'd love to see you get off that couch, or that desk chair. But if you really can't find the motivation to do so, try "couchersizing" and "deskersizing." And remember that "couchersizes" can also be done while you're sitting in your car at stops.

I asked Kailin Collins, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, for some couch-friendly exercises. Here's what she shared:

You can work several muscle groups while seated on a couch. For example, twist your torso from side to side for the length of a commercial break. That should get your heart rate up and work the muscles in your sides.

Or exercise while lying on the couch: with your legs in front of you, squeeze your thigh muscles for a count of 10, then relax and repeat several times. Try leg lifts while on your back to build abs, or side lifts to strengthen hip muscles.

Granted, you may have to explain what you're doing to the people around you, otherwise, they might think you're having a seizure. And if you do couchersizes while driving, you may get some strange looks from the person stopped in the lane next to you.

Here are some more exercises you can do during commercial breaks:

• Sit to stand. This exercise works the muscles in your buttocks and the front of your thighs. It helps preserve your ability to get up from a chair or out of a car. repetitions can increase your heart rate. How to do it: Go from sitting to standing to sitting again, 10 times in a row. Rest for a minute, then repeat.

• Calf stretch. Keeping your calves flexible can reduce your risk for common foot injuries. How to do it: Sit on the edge of a couch with your feet flat on the floor. Keeping your heel on the floor, lift and point your toes toward the ceiling. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat with the other leg, three times per leg.

• Stand on one leg. Good balance reduces your risk of falling, and balance improves with practice. How to do it: Holding on to the back of a chair, lift one heel toward your buttocks. Hold for 30 to 45 seconds, three times per leg.

Better yet, walk across the room during commercials, swinging your arms as you go.

When I'm working at my desk -- as when writing this column -- I do this every 10 to 15 minutes. This is after I've explained what I'm doing to anyone who sees me and might wonder about my behavior!

• Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com.

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