Get Up, Stand Up
By Jaimi Jansen
You finally quit smoking? Good job. That’s an important step on the road to a healthy lifestyle, and now that you’ve started the journey, the next step is to get up from your desk — at least sometimes.
According to the American Heart Association, sedentary jobs have increased by 83% since the 1950s, and only one half of the American workforce is physically active. Sedentary living causes a host of health problems — so much so that Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, has coined the cautionary phrase: “sitting is the new smoking.”
The Dangers of Sitting
Dr. Levine is unequivocal about the dangers of prolonged sitting:
Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.
Besides obesity, too much sitting can lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, muscular flaccidity, musculoskeletal imbalances, chronic pain, cancer and depression. Doctors are seeing that sitting causes muscles to burn less calories, which in turn causes blood to flow more sluggishly. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are the first effects, and other problems develop even if — and this is important — you get regular exercise.
Break Up Your Sitting Time
None of this means you have to give up your desk job. Dr. Andrea LaCroix, director of the Women’s Health Center of Excellence of the University of California, San Diego, cautions against demonizing sitting. The point, experts agree, is to reduce sitting time by breaking it up. Getting up from your desk every 30 minutes to stand or walk around can make all the difference.
Here are some other ways to reduce sitting time:
• Swap your desk for a “standing desk” that changes height so you can stand or sit while working.
• Use a stopwatch or mobile app to tell you when it’s time to stand.
• Get up and walk to coworkers’ desks instead of chatting or emailing.
• Walk around the room while talking on the phone.
By itself, exercise won’t completely cure the ills of habitual sitting, but it can turn the tide. The question is: How much of your workout are you cancelling out by sitting for prolonged periods? The idea is to address the cause, which is essentially being sedentary in a chair. You can use some these simple tips to increase your daily activity:
• Park far from work.
• Take a walk at lunchtime.
• Take the stairs
• Play with your kids
• Drink plenty of water so you have to get up and go to the bathroom regularly
• Do yard work and other odd jobs around the house
• Walk to the grocery store
• Ride your bike to errands and/or work when you can
Watch That Diet
Surprisingly, a sedentary lifestyle doesn’t reduce your appetite. In fact, it may trigger you to eat more than you should, so it’s even more important to eat the right things, in the right quantity at the right time. Calorie intake should not exceed calorie expenditure, this is where tracking your food becomes very useful. For best results follow a meal plan to ensure you are fueling your metabolism to maintain a healthy body weight while getting all the nutrients you need. Eat balanced meals at regular intervals during the day, stay away from refined sugar, salt, stabilizers, additives, etc. Our bodies don’t do well with industrialized food just like they don’t do well with an industrialized job and lifestyle. To quote Michael Pollan, “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” A good first step is going to the farmers market to buy the bulk of your food. You can also stick to the perimeter of the grocery store when shopping. Drinking plenty of water will keep your metabolism operating at optimal levels.
So, to sum up, sitting is okay for short periods of time. To avoid accumulating health problems associated with long periods of sitting, get up and move around at least every 30 minutes. Incorporate regular exercise as well as active habits during your day. Stick to a balanced meal plan of high quality food so as to not overeat. Drink lots of water, not only it will keep you getting up out of your chair to take trips to the bathroom but it will keep your metabolism working.
Remember, your body thrives with movement so don’t deprive it.