How long have you been sitting today? You probably sat while you ate breakfast or had your morning coffee. Did you sit while watching the morning news or reading the newspaper? More than likely you sat while driving around town to get to work or run some errands. Most of us feel a little sluggish after long periods of sitting, and for good reason. According to the American Medical Association, sitting for extended periods is also bad for personal health. Studies show that, on average, we sit 6 to 8 hours a day, so, as we go into the new year, focus on noticing how much time you spend sitting and work to be up and about more.
Sitting less is important no matter how active you are. You can get the recommended 30 minutes of activity every day and still sit too much. Sitting and exercise should be thought of as two separate behaviors, each contributing on its own to our health.
What happens to your body as you sit?
Key fat burners shut off the minute we sit. Every two hours spent sitting reduces blood flow, raises blood sugar, and drops good cholesterol. Abdominal and glute muscles go unused and become weaker. Hip flexor muscles become short and tight, limiting range of motion and stride length. It can lead to a strained neck, sore shoulders, and a sore or bad back. When we are sedentary for a long time, everything slows, including brain function.
Sitting for long hours is linked to worse mental health, an increased risk for obesity, cancer, type II diabetes, heart disease, early death, and metabolic syndrome. The increased risk due to sitting is separate from the health risks from other lifestyle-related factors, such as excess weight, smoking, or high blood pressure.
Why is it important to stand and move more?
Standing is like walking: It increases energy, burns extra calories, tones muscles, improves posture, increases blood flow and ramps up metabolism. Being active improves your cardiovascular system, the system in your body that includes your heart and blood vessels. It can also strengthen your muscles, help your breathe and utilize oxygen better, reduce your body fat mass, and improve your mental health.
• For those of you who spend most of your day seated at a desk, there are a many things you can do to counter the negative effects of sitting. Short “activity breaks” are a good idea-set a goal, and an alarm, to stand up and move around for at least a few minutes out of every hour. As little as five-minute walking or movement breaks every hour can help. Standing or walking meetings are a great way to break the sitting routine as well. A brisk walk around the block with a co-worker might be just what you need to get your creative juices flowing during a brainstorming session. Some other ideas include:
• Stand up while making a phone call.
• Rearrange your work space to incorporate an adjustable workstation that enables you to alternate between sitting and standing.
• Sit on a stability ball—you’ll use more of your muscles and counteract some of the negative effects of sitting.
• Take the stairs. Just one set is beneficial to your health, so fit in 10 minutes of a couple sets throughout your day.
• Map out a mile route around your office and go for a walk during your lunch break or join a gym near your office and go during your lunch hour.
• Fill your water bottle up at the furthest water fountain or use the furthest restroom.
• Go over to your coworkers desk instead of emailing or calling.
• Fit in a mini workout routine, including arm circles, squats, triceps dips, leg extensions, hamstring chair scoots, lunges with one leg forward, calf raises, shoulder rolls, and shoulder blade squeezes. Don’t forget to include some arm, neck, hip, and leg stretches as well.
Look for ways to reduce the time you spend sitting down while you’re not at work, too. Stand up while waiting for an appointment, while on the phone, or during the commercials. Better yet, take the dog or your family for a walk or bike ride! Do whatever you can to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting and better your health. Every little bit of movement helps. For more information about what the Health Department is doing to help the Independence community move more, contact the Independence Health Department at 816-325-7185.
-- Andrew Warlen, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.