Stand up for good healthPublished 11:05pm Saturday, November 17, 2012
No, I’m not kidding! Really, stand up! Prolonged sitting promotes bad health. Daily inactivity, not just lack of exercise, could be making you sick. Several studies suggest that people who sit still for prolonged periods of time – such as desk workers or true ‘couch potatoes’ — have a higher risk of disease than those who move a muscle every now and then, even in a non-exercise manner.
Many people think the term “sedentary” refers to folks who do not exercise. Researchers have reclassified certain behaviors like sitting behind a desk, or in a work cubicle, and even TV watching for seven hours or more as true “sedentary” behavior. So here’s the bad news, if you spend most of your day sitting – in your car, in your office chair, on or the sofa at home – you’re putting yourself at an increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a variety of cancers; not to mention early death! The truth is we have become a nation of “sitters,” and sitting for long periods is bad for you.
Why, you ask, is my chair my enemy? There seems to be several reasons; the first one is that sitting is one of the most passive things we do as humans. You can burn more calories chewing gum or being fidgety than just sitting still in a chair. We were not designed to sit as much as our lifestyles dictate. Think about it, some people have an hour (or more) commute in their cars or on mass transit, arrive at work to sit at a computer for seven to eight hours, then travel (sitting down) back to home base, only to sit in front of the TV for several more hours. Putting all those hours together, one study estimated the average adult could spend as much as 50-70 percent of their lifetime sitting. So here is why so much sitting could be detrimental to our health: the absence of skeletal muscle contractions, particularly the large muscles of the legs. When muscles don’t contract, they don’t use as much fuel (blood sugar), which accumulates in the blood stream, contributing to diabetes risk and other health concerns. Thus, weight gain becomes easier and promotes fatness and all the ills it often brings. In one Australian study, the “physiology of inactivity” looked at lipoprotein lipase, a molecule that plays a central role in how the body processes fat. Low levels of lipoprotein lipase are associated with a variety of health issues, heart disease being one of them. This molecule was found to be more abundant in people who actively flexed leg muscles — for example standing up and walking around occasionally. The study looked at active men who walked 10,000 steps per day on average (measured using a pedometer). They were asked to cut back by only 1,350 steps per day for just two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, all of them had become worse at metabolizing fats and sugars, by comparing blood work. Also their distribution of body fat was altered — they had become more fat around the middle. Conversely, in another study, researchers asked office workers who sit for many hours to move more and break up their prolonged sitting. They had them stand every hour and stretch and walk the hall. At the end of this study, the subjects had smaller waist girth measurements, and improved blood profiles.
So what is one to do? Quit your office job and become a lumberjack? You may think you have no choice on how much you sit, but this isn’t true. We all are given the same 24 hours per day, how we spend it is ours to budget. There are ways to combat the ‘Sitters Syndrome.’ Think of your health as a series of small, but effective choices: Do you take the stairs or an elevator when given a choice; do you e-mail someone across the hall from you when you could walk over to see them; when you get home, do you putter around the yard, or walk the dog; do you limit your TV time? Try doing simple tasks like folding clothes while standing vs. sitting – burns more calories and works your important leg muscles. And don’t forget that all important one — searching for the best parking place — as far away as possible!
Put as much walking distance in each visit to the grocery store, hardware store, etc. We were designed to be upright and mobile. Last and not least, be proactive — exercise at least 30 minutes a day — cycle, walk, dance, swim! Take a stand (literally) for good health.
Jennifer V. Weatherly, CLC, H/FI (c) is the Group Exercise Supervisor at Vidant Wellness Center Washington.