When I ask my patients how much activity they get during the day, many of them boast that they spend an hour in the gym, walking or running, every day. Although exercising for an hour every day, after sitting most the day during work, is much better than coming home and sitting on the couch for several more hours watching television, unfortunately it’s still not enough. In fact, sitting most of your day at work, or other activity, could very well be killing you slowly but surely. Let me tell you why.
Why Sitting Too Long Could Be Ruining Your Health
The human body was designed for frequent movement. At the turn of the 20th century, people spent most days on their feet doing jobs necessary to maintain their daily life. A lot of time was spent performing tasks such as washing clothes, cleaning rugs and floors without machines, farming, mining, manufacturing, logging, and more. In short, regular physical labor was expended because it was necessary.
This way of living – and moving – continued up to the advent of technological advances that allowed machines to take over much of the physical labor. Still another major advancement – the computer – allowed our entire economy to shift from manufacturing toward primarily service-oriented jobs. Information service positions were created which caused many people to sit behind computers processing and selling products. As a result the health of human beings has suffered as evidenced by a growing population of obesity and diseases like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
A recent study at Louisiana University has shown that the number of private industry jobs that require at least moderate physical activity had fallen from half in the 1960’s to less than 20% today! It was found that men burn an average of 142 less calories a day and women 124. That works out to a little over 1 lb of weight gain per month, or over 12 lbs per year. In only 2 years time, you could easily be 25 lbs overweight.
In other studies, researchers have proved through participants’ blood tests that sitting for hours at a time have a harmful effect on the way you metabolize your food. Your metabolism decreases and blood fats and cholesterol not only rise but they just hang around unused in your blood. Sitting “idle” too long also causes your insulin production to stop working efficiently. As a result, your blood sugar levels rise, putting you at risk for, or worsening, conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.
Sitting too much can also increase your risk for developing cancer as your lymphatic system depends on regular body movement to move toxins out of your body. Too little movement causes all those toxins to build up and start creating abnormal cells. Think of it this way. . .
You buy a Lamborghini, a beautiful car that was designed for high speed driving. Yet, instead of driving it the way it was intended to be driven every day, you only let it idle in your driveway several hours a day. Soon, its engine and fuel lines clog up with a lot of gunk from waste products in the oil and fuel. Your body functions much like that Lamborghini engine. It needs the frequent movement that it was designed for to properly process and use the fats, sugars, and other nutrients from your food. Regular movement prevents these substances from clogging up your “engine” causing dysfunction of certain body organs that results in disease.
Sitting “idling” at your desk, though, is just one form of non-movement. Watching television for hours, reading for hours in your arm chair, sitting behind the wheel (transport drivers, job commuters), long trips on planes, trains, buses, can all compound your sitting time. Here’s what to do about it. . .
Know the 50/10 Rule
The American Heart Association recommends that you walk 10,000 steps a day throughout your daily routine. This is equivalent to about 5 miles of walking. Yes, it would be great for your health to take a 5 mile walk every day, but if you spend the rest of the day sitting, that 5 mile walk won’t offset the sitting very much. The key is to add short bursts of regular movement throughout your day.
Yet, if you have a job where you’re primarily at your desk all day, or in a seat as a professional transport driver, or commuter, sitting for many hours, you might wonder how you can do this. By simply moving your legs, arms and body for 10 minutes every 50 minutes. If you’re a professional driver, or job commuter, you can take short 10 minute breaks at a rest stop to get out of your vehicle and move around. If you’re a passenger on a plane or other commercial carrier, you can get up and walk to the restroom, and/or do a combination of leg lift and foot/ankle flexing exercises, a few waist twists from side to side, reaching your hands overhead several times, and several toe touching exercises in your chair.
If you’re a “chained to your desk” office worker, here are a few suggestions:
- Every 50 minutes, take a 10 minute walk to the restroom, water fountain, around the building, take the stairs to another floor, arrange a “moving” meeting where all of you conduct your business during a walk. You can also just stand at your desk alternating standing on each leg for 10 minutes while you take a phone call.
- If you have a private office, or if it’s okay with your employer, get up every 50 minutes, and jog in place or do jumping jacks. It will get your blood moving and fire up your brain cells helping you think faster, and improve your mood.
- If you’re able, keep a mini-trampoline, treadmill, stair climber, elliptical machine in your office or workplace. Get on it every 50 minutes and do 10 minutes of fast, or high resistance, exercise on it. Not enough to make you sweat, but it’ll move your blood and lymph and also help improve how your body uses insulin.
- Get a standing desk or, better yet, a new treadmill desk. Standing is better than sitting, and moving is better than both. The new treadmill desks allow you to stand and walk continuously at a slow, very comfortable pace where you can still talk on the phone, answer emails, work on a keyboard.
Even these seemingly little movements suggested above can rev up your “idling” metabolism again and help to clear fat, sugars and waste products from your bloodstream, tissues and lymphatic system. Remember, 10 minutes an hour over an 8-9 hour workday adds up to 80 to 90 minutes, or about 1-1/2 hours, and about 5,000 steps, of extra movement during your day. The balance of your 5,000 steps can be done at the gym or during a walk, run, after work. Using a pedometer to measure how many steps you’re taking during your day can tell you how much you move throughout your day.
With all the sitting we do as a culture, it’s no wonder to me that obesity and diabetes rates have reached epidemic highs. It can’t be denied, and current research confirms it more every day, sitting most the day, is a real hazard to your health. Try to put more movement into your work day with some of the above suggestions. Convincing your employer of the health value of everyone taking a 10/50 movement break can make a happier, more productive work force. It can also mean a longer, healthier life for everyone!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News
Sitting Risks: How Harmful Is Too Much Sitting? http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sitting/AN02082
20 Jobs That Keep You Moving, http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2011/08/19/hate-being-chained-to-your-desk-all-day-20-jobs-that-keep-you-m/
photo credit: womansday.com