Unless you are in the midst of a power-walk on the treadmill, chances are that you’re sitting down while reading this article. You probably spend more of your day sitting than you realize. How long is your commute? Do you use a computer to complete most of your work? Do you find a comfy spot on the couch to watch your favorite shows in the evening? What about errands? Do you find yourself doing more and more of them on your iPhone or computer? If your day is like that of many other Americans, you may have “sitting disease.” This is the new buzzword being used to describe a sedentary lifestyle, which may be putting your health at risk.
According to a poll of nearly 6,300 people by the Institute for Medicine and Public Health, it’s likely that you spend a shocking 56 hours a week planted in your chair—staring at your computer screen, driving your car or captivated by your HD television. Even if you lead an otherwise healthy lifestyle, your sitting habits could be putting you at increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity. One of the issues at play here is the fact that when you sit for an extended period of time, your body starts to shut down at the metabolic level, according to Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri. When muscles—especially the big ones meant for movement, like those in your legs—are immobile, your circulation slows and you burn fewer calories. Enzymes that are responsible for breaking down triglycerides essentially start shutting off. Hamilton points out that if you sit for a full day, 50% of those fat-burners will turn off. Another health concern is lower back pain. “When you still all day, your hip flexors and hamstrings shorten and tighten, while the muscles that support your spine become weak and stiff,” says Hamilton.
So what can you do about it? You don’t need to quit your job or sell your car. You just need to sneak some extra movement time into your day.
1. Move it. Get up and stretch at your desk once every hour. Just a few minutes will get your blood moving and stretch out those tight muscles.
2. Change habits. Park as far as you can from your building, take the stairs to your office, add a quick walk to your lunchtime routine, and try to stand while you are on the phone (pace if you can). Every once in a while, go to a coworker’s office to ask a question rather than sending an email.
3. Rearrange your office. Move some of the items in your office away from your desk—trash can, mini-fridge, printer—so that you have to get up throughout the day.
4. Recharge. Are you often worn-out by mid-afternoon? Get up and take a 15-minute walk. You will lose a few minutes of work time, but the boost of energy will help you accomplish more than you would have when you were tired.
5. Multi-task. Let’s face it, after a long day at the office, driving the kids to practice and making sure everyone is fed, you deserve to plop in front of the TV and catch up on your favorite show. Why not try to add in some light exercise? You can walk on the treadmill, peddle on the stationary bike or just do some sit ups and arm curls. You might be surprised at how fast the time goes by.
Our lifestyles have changed. Phones and computers have made it possible to do our banking, order our groceries and socialize all from the comforts of our couch. While we can all appreciate these advances in technology, it’s important to remember that our bodies were meant to move. Do what you can to stay active throughout the day and lower your risk of developing chronic diseases.