When it comes to our health, experts say it’s time for us to take a stand… literally.
If you spend a good part of your day sitting down, the thought has probably already crossed your mind that all that time on your gluteus maximus can't be doing your body any favors.
As it turns out, research says you're right. But what you may not realize is that sitting for prolonged periods can be downright deadly. It's been dubbed "sitting disease," and you don't have to be Homer Simpson, cradling a bowl of potato chips in your armchair, to be at risk.
When you sit back and think about it (but not for too long), most of us are already busy logging loads of chair time: at our computers, behind the steering wheel, and at our desks at our jobs and school.
In a brave new world of emails, video games, eight-hour-plus workdays, backed-up commutes, and long-distance hauls, scientists are just beginning to explore what this "sitting-in-motion" lifestyle means to our health. According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, while past research has focused on the effects of sitting in relation to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and unhealthy eating habits, "very few studies have examined time spent sitting in relation to total mortality."
What the science says: Experts reported that even people who sit for extended periods but regularly hit the gym are at risk. Exercise in itself, though obviously critical to our bodies overall, doesn't seem to counter the damaging effects of all this time spent seated.
In a 2010 article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Elin Ekblom-Bak of the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences reports, "After four hours of sitting, the body starts to send harmful signals." She conveyed that the body's genes regulating the amount of glucose and fat begin to shut down.
The American Journal of Epidemiology stresses that health messages "should include both being physically active and reducing time spent sitting."
And Dr. James A. Levine of the Mayo Clinic cited one study in which adults who sat in front of the television for more than 4 hours a day had an 80% increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared to adults who spent less than 2 hours a day engaged in the same activity.
Reducing our risk
So what should we be doing to protect our health? The key seems to be slashing the amount of hours we spend on our derrieres.
It's not too late to make healthy changes. Here are a few tips the Mayo Clinic and other experts say you can start using today:
Bike It Or Hike It: If the distance is short enough, put on your walking shoes or ride your bike to work. If you do drive, park at the farthest end of the parking lot and walk to your building's entrance.
Go Ahead, Stand Around: According to Dr. Levine, the muscle contractions that occur when we stand seem to activate the breakdown of sugars and fats. Standing, as a result, burns triple the amount of calories than sitting. But staying desk-bound prevents these type of contractions from doing their magic.
The lesson: Seek out ways to stand during the day. Try a standing desk, a high desk with no chair. If you don't have access to one, the Mayo Clinic suggests substituting a high table or counter instead.
If this isn't possible, remember to get up from your desk at regular intervals, stand, stretch, and walk around.
Take a Walk While You Talk: Take advantage of phone time to walk around the room while you're talking instead of staying stationary at your desk.
Replace Boardroom Meetings With Walking meetings: Gather your colleagues for a stroll down the hallway or, better yet, outside in the fresh air.
Whenever possible, deliver inter-office messages in person instead of sending emails.
Stretch Your Legs: Use break times to take a walk at a brisk pace or do some stretching exercises. Forming a walking group is a fun way to strengthen your social ties and factor in fitness at the same time.
Try a Treadmill Desk: If you have the opportunity, you might want to try using a treadmill desk so that you can walk in place while you work. But be sure to consult with your doctor before starting any kind of exercise routine.
Are you standing up yet?