"Sitting is the new smoking." What?? This is the catch phrase that the health care industry is using to alert people to the hazards of sitting too much. Again, what?? Yes, some research has shown that just the act of sitting a lot during the day can have health effects as serious as smoking. Don’t we all sit a lot? Of course we do: at our work desks, at the computer, driving, watching TV, eating, engaging in certain hobbies and so many other regular, daily activities.
Over the last few years, several studies conducted all over the world have looked at the possible connection between the hours that people sit and their risk of getting conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and mental health problems. Each study has been conducted a little differently and has focused on different factors but they seem to have come to the same conclusion: more than 9 – 10 hours a day of sitting (no matter what you are doing when sitting) can increase the risk of some serious, long-term health issues.
Dorothy Dunlop, PhD., a public health and medicine researcher at Northwestern University in Chicago, led one of these studies. "When a person sits for an extended period of time, your muscles burn less fat and your blood tends to flow more sluggishly," Dunlop says. That slowed-down blood flow may be at fault for the heart disease and high blood pressure problems associated with prolonged sitting.
An interesting additional piece of information that these researchers have uncovered is that even people who exercise on a regular basis (30 minutes a day, 5 times a week) do not seem to be immune to the effects of sitting too much. That exercise doesn’t offset the negative health impact of hours and hours of sitting during the day.
According to James A. Levine, M.D., Ph.D., writing for the Mayo Clinic website, "The muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When you sit, these processes stall — and your health risks increase. When you're standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action."
It’s true that many of us work in sedentary jobs, sitting at a computer or otherwise tied to a desk for eight hours a day, five days a week. How do we compensate for situations over which we seem to have no control? Think about standing or moving around whenever you possibly can throughout your work day.
When your phone rings, stand up at your desk while you conduct the call.
If a co-worker stops in to discuss an issue (or to bring you up to speed on the latest exploits of their child’s soccer career), just stand up, or suggest that while you talk, you take a trip down the hall.
When lunch or break time rolls around, get your coffee or food and instead of sitting back at your desk or in the break room, stroll around the building or find a counter high enough to allow you to stand up while you eat.
If you are leading a meeting, suggest that everyone walk a lap around the building, if it is feasible, while you talk. At least suggest a standing break for a few minutes if the meeting goes for more than 30 minutes.
At home, while watching TV, get up and pace or stretch at every commercial break. While you peruse facebook, put the computer on a kitchen counter and stand up while you catch up. If you engage in a hobby that requires sitting, set a timer for 30 minutes and stand up, walk around the room, get a drink of water or check your email (standing, of course) before resuming your project.
These seemingly small amounts of activity appear to be much more important than we ever suspected. Try to work some of these suggestions into your day to improve your health outlook in the coming years.
Pam Maxson is a health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for a topic, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 335-4327.