What are you doing right now? Chances are good that you’re sitting. We Americans spend an average of 9.3 hours a day on our keisters. And we’re paying for it with our lives.
It’s no secret that inactivity is bad for our health. Research shows that a sedentary lifestyle is correlated with an increase in cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and some cancers.
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that adults who sat for more than 11 hours per day had a 40 percent increased risk of dying in the next three years than people who sat less than four hours a day.
Sitting is equally bad for our brain and mood. Findings published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that women who sat for more than seven hours a day were at a 47 percent higher risk for developing depression than women who sat for four or fewer hours per day. And spending just five hours a day in front of a computer can greatly increase the risk of depression and insomnia, according to a study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
What happens when we sit? “After four hours of sitting, the body starts to send harmful signals ,” says Elin Ekblom-Bak of the Swedish School of Sport and Health. She explained that genes regulating the amount of glucose and fat in the body start to shut down. Enzymes that break down fat decrease by 90 percent. Good cholesterol drops 20 percent.
While exercise is important, it can’t undo the hours we spend in our chairs. Research conducted by Dr. Bernard Duvivier found blood levels were better in subjects who simply walked and stood for part of the day than in subjects who exercised vigorously then sat for long periods of time. Tim Armstrong, physical activity expert at the World Health Organization, suggests people who exercise every day but still spend a lot of time sitting might get more benefit if their exercise is spread out throughout the day.
The solution, of course, is simple. Get moving any way that you can. You’ll not only be less sedentary — depending on the activity, you’ll reap additional benefits, too.
For instance, yoga has been shown to improve mood and decrease anxiety. Tai chi improves balance and sleep. Walking protects the brain against age-related shrinkage and improves memory. Outdoor exercise decreases tension, anger and depression. Endurance running produces beta-endorphins and euphoria.
Of course, there’s no wrong or right way to be active. Activity is the goal itself.
EASY WAYS TO ADD MOVEMENT TO YOUR DAY
Take the stairs. Avoid the elevator whenever possible. Instead, hike up the stairs for a brief cardio workout and a chance to be out of your chair.
Use a stand-up desk. Standing all day has its own set of problems. But standing or sitting as you feel the need is any desk jockey’s dream. (I can personally attest to the creative benefits of standing; I write my column standing up every week.)
Sit on an exercise ball. If your boss allows it, trade in your desk chair for an exercise ball. They’re easier on your back than a traditional chair, and they make you feel more energized. Try it!
Take short, frequent breaks. If you’re watching TV, get up during the commercials and take a brief saunter around the room. If you’re at work, stand up every 30 minutes. Do a few twists, stretches and neck rolls before sitting back down.
Move while watching TV. Considered the ultimate sedentary activity, watching the tube can be active indeed. Fold laundry while catching the news. Ride a stationary bicycle during Downton Abbey. Stretch or jog in place during your favorite shows. Better yet, turn it off for one hour in the evening and go outside for a walk.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.