Have you heard the latest adage that sitting is the new smoking? When is the last time you did an audit of how much you sit? Take a minute to calculate how much time you spend at your desk, on the couch, in your car driving and sitting in general. While sitting for brief periods is normal, long periods of sitting every day can affect your health and dramatically shorten your lifespan.
Katy Bowman, a scientist and author of the book: Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement, told Reuters: "Actively sedentary is a new category of people who are fit for one hour but sitting around the rest of the day… You can't offset 10 hours of stillness with one hour of exercise.“
Here’s what happens as soon as you sit down. Electrical activity in the legs shuts off, Calorie burning drops to 1 per minute, enzymes that help break down fat drop by 90%. After two hours good cholesterol drops by 20% and after 24 hours insulin effectiveness drops by 24% and the risk of diabetes rises.
The statistics of days, months and years of sitting are staggering. Here are some of these health risks. Heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, sluggish digestion, brain damage, strained neck and shoulders, back problems, postural issues, muscle degeneration, weak bones and varicose veins.
Dr. James Levine, co-director of the Mayo Clinic and the Arizona State University Obesity Initiative, and author of the book Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, has dedicated a good part of his career to investigating the health effects of sitting. His investigations show that when you've been sitting for a long period of time and then get up, a number of molecular cascades occur. For example, within 90 seconds of standing up, the muscular and cellular systems that process blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol—which are mediated by insulin—are activated.
It’s clear then that we need to get up and move more often. Taking what I call ‘movement breaks’ throughout the day is crucial. Here are some ideas to move more during the working day. Stand while talking on the phone, get up to collect your print job from the printer, walk to the kitchen to pour and drink a glass of water, take regular loo breaks, build a standing desk and alternate sitting and standing every hour, use a rebounder in your office or at home and bounce for 5 minutes, hold ‘plank’ for 30 seconds, do 10 star jumps, hold walking meetings with your colleagues, walk to a co-worker instead of sending an email, and use an exercise ball for a chair. There's even chair yoga to get you moving while seated which is great for blood circulation, increased concentration and productivity and a calmer mind.
Ideally you want to move for 10 minutes per hour and this is not always possible at work. It’s good to know that even getting up for two minutes per hour can reduce the effects of sitting.
You want to aim for at least thirty minutes of movement per day. Some creative ways to bring more movement into your daily life is to aim for 8000 – 10 000 steps per day. Why not park further from the entrance at the grocery shop, take the stairs instead of the escalator and get up and move around during the ad breaks of your favourite TV show.
Lastly, movement is not the same as exercise. Studies have shown that 30-60 minutes of exercise per day does not counteract the effects of sitting for 10 hours, so it’s important to include movement throughout your day. You’ll quickly start to feel the benefits.