Don’t sit around worrying about your health

Fitness  |  By

“Sitting is the new smoking!” – a bold statement but more and more evidence is suggesting that our sedentary lifestyle is increasing our risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and musculoskeletal problems. It has even been shown that compared to more active people, the risk of early death is 15% greater for people who sit over 8 hours per day and 40% greater for people who sit over 11 hours per day.

We weren’t designed to spend long periods of every day hunched over our desks, gazing at computer screens – or even lounging on the sofa glued to the telly. Our social life often involves sitting too – over coffee or dinner, in the cinema or simply sitting around chatting. And yet we feel we have no time to exercise to counteract all of this sitting – how are we supposed to fit it in between work, sleep and social life?

How about if we kill two birds with one stone?

Why does exercise have to be a separate entity to life in general? It puts me in mind of those people who use the escalator or lift whenever they are out shopping – and then spend time and money using the step machine at the local gym! Why not try harder to combine our exercise with other vital parts of our life? Not sleep, clearly (though there’s an opportunity to raise our heart rate before we nod off, perhaps!) but what about making our social life more active? Rather than doing lunch or coffee, how about meeting for a walk?

Many of us walk no more than 3-4,000 steps a day, but with a bit of extra effort, we can increase that by a few thousand – leading to proven benefits to health and waistline.

And what about work…now there’s a missed opportunity! If we can spend less of that 8 hours or so a day sitting, without compromising our work, then we can get some serious activity ticked off without even noticing it. Maybe, we could even work better too! Plenty of evidence suggests we could.

Studies show that if you are working in an office, you are likely to be sitting for up to three-quarters of the working day – not to mention the time spent commuting or putting in a few extra hours on the laptop at home. This poses serious dangers to your health, increasing your risk of heart and cardiovascular disease, weight gain and type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Being inactive produces a complex series of metabolic changes within our bodies, which affect how we use glucose (sugars) for energy, and how we release insulin – a hormone that helps control our blood sugar levels. This can result in an increased risk of type-2 diabetes, which in turn is associated with problems with our heart, circulation and nervous system function as well as the risk of early death.

A recent Australian study found that in adults over 25, each hour of sitting watching television correlated with 22 minutes off the average life expectancy. Just think about how long you spend sitting at work!

One study of almost 800,000 people provides some very stark messages…

Compared with those who sat the least, people who sat the longest had a:
• 112% increase in the risk of diabetes
• 147% increase in cardiovascular events
• 90% increase in death caused by cardiovascular events
• 49% increase in death from any cause

Can’t make it any clearer than that!

Don’t think that you can make up for it by being super sporty out of work… According to major research being inactive in the office is bad for you even if you exercise a lot outside the 9 to 5.

So what can you do?

Researchers say the only sure way to address the problem is to sit less and change position every 20 to 30 minutes, even for 30 seconds or so. Short activity breaks have been shown to reduce blood sugar and insulin spikes. Standing and walking increases blood flow in the legs burns more calories by speeding up your metabolism and can help get the creative juices flowing. Changes in posture help realign the spinal curves, putting less strain on our joints, spinal discs and nerves.

• Make a few extra trips to the water fountain.
• Set our alarm or use a personal fitness band to remind you to move every 30 minutes.
• Get up and talk to colleagues rather than sending an email.
• Stand up and wander around for that phone call.
• How about a walking or standing meeting – supposed to help the creative juices flow and avoid those painfully long conferences.
• If you can get outside, even better… fresh air leads to fresh ideas.

Sedentary Activity Associated With Metabolic Syndrome Independent of Physical Activity. A Bankoski, T Harris, J McClain et al. Diabetes care 2010.
Sedentary Behavior and Mortality in Older Women. Rebecca Seguin, PhD, David M. Buchner, MD, MPH, et al. American Journal Preventative Medicine 2014
Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis. Wilmot EG, Edwardson CL, Achana FA, et al. Diabetologia. August 14 2012
Sedentary Behaviour and Obesity: Review of the Current Scientific Evidence.

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