Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Is Sitting Bad for Your Health?

Sitting – it’s so natural and relaxing.  It couldn’t possibly be bad for your health, right?

Wrong.  Or so some research indicates.  There is some new research that is saying that our health is not “on hold” or resting. As adults, our health is either getting better or getting worse. Our actions, or inaction, either promote a healthy body or an unhealthy one.

That isn’t to say that declining health is automatic the second your body settles into the comfy chair or that well-worn groove in your sofa. The new studies indicate that the negative effects of sitting on one’s health come from the amount of time we spend sitting.  The longer you remain seated without taking a physical break, the greater the negative effect.

Are you sitting down?

This July, the online journal BMJ indicated that sitting too long leads to a marked reduction in life expectancy.  According to the research, sitting for three or more hours a day is enough to slice two years off your life.  With the average life expectancy in the United States presently at 78.5 years according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that means U.S. life expectancy for those whose jobs require substantial sitting will be lucky to see their 76th birthday.

U.S. life expectancy
Sitting too long can take 2 years off your life.
Other research supports this finding. Gretchen Reynolds, author and noted columnist for the New York Times Phys Ed blog, reveals in her newest book The First 20 Minutes that sitting for long periods of time without taking a break to stand up or move around actually causes our muscles to change, leading to changes throughout your body.   The body's ability to break up fat deposits goes to rest too, during long periods of uninterrupted sitting.  As a result, fat accumulates in the heart, liver and brain.  Gretchen Reynolds reports that it makes you sluggish and more tired and contributes to weight gain.

This new information could change the advice we've been given from fitness experts and government guidelines. Today’s federal health guidelines advise us to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily.  But this new research indicates that just exercising before or after your eight-hour workday at the desk may not be enough to maintain good health. Instead you may need to add physical movement throughout the course of your day to avoid the negative effects of prolonged sitting.

Don’t take this lying down – take action!

The good news, also detailed in Reynolds’ book The First 20 Minutes, is that even by making small changes in your daily routine you can make significant improvements in your health.  Here are three steps you can take today to break up the normal routine of extended sitting.

1.  Take a stand
Reynolds explains that simply standing for two minutes after every 20 minutes of sitting can greatly improve your health.  Doing this is enough to improve how your body functions and could even help to decrease a person's risk of getting diabetes.

Not used to taking a break and standing every twenty minutes? Worried that your boss might think your actions decrease productivity? Reynolds recommends getting an inexpensive music stand; you can put your work papers or your phone on it and continue to do your work while in a standing position. Phone headsets also make movement while working much easier.

Many larger companies encourage employees to stand more often for health reasons. Some are even willing to provide standing-height desks for you. This makes it easier to lose weight and improve health even while working.

2.  Walk it off
Getting out of that chair and standing increases good health. Obviously, more is needed. Moving around will further promote good health.  That doesn’t mean you should do jumping jacks in the hallway or take off to the nearest gym and swim laps every twenty minutes!

exercising at a desk
It doesn't have to be elaborate, just walk in place for 2 minutes and exercise at a desk.
Try walking in place for two minutes when you stand up.  The benefits of walking for weight loss are well documented.  Take a short walk around the cubicle farm or to the break room and back. For a glass of water, not for a doughnut! Remember that walking exercises burn calories.  How many calories?  That depends on several things like your weight, the temperature and other factors.  This is a good rule of thumb: assume that walking one mile burns 100 calories if you weigh 180 pounds or 65 calories if you weigh 120 pounds.

3.  Engage in “deskxercising”
You can engage in desk exercises without standing up. The more energetic these exercises are, the greater the health benefits. You can do simple arm and leg movements or stomach contractions exercises while sitting at your desk or during your two minute standing break.  Exercises like this can also increase your calorie burning.

New to exercising at your desk?  Fortunately, the Internet is full of advice on desk-side exercises and movements you can easily adapt to your office environment. Search Google.com, Yahoo.com, or Bing.com using the phrases exercise from desk or exercising at a desk.

Make it a habit

Taking a two minute break every 20 to 30 minutes can be difficult if it's not part of your routine. Consider making a “movement” commitment with a coworker in which you both agree to stand and take a two minute walk every 20 or 30 minutes.

If you work alone, use an egg timer counting down 20 minutes to help you remember to stand up and walk around.  After you’ve done this for a couple of weeks it will become a habit, hopefully one that is hard to break.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

1 comment:

  1. Weight loss by walking! A great way to control your weight. You daily walking actually burns calories and you feel the difference. Those calories burned walking actually increase as your walking distance and speed increases. You gain a new sense of energy. It’s the start of your walking journey to be the best you can be!