Are You Sitting to Death?

Are You Sitting to Death?

We all know smoking is bad for you, but c’mon, sitting?  Is it really that bad?

Actually, it is.

We all know obesity is a growing concern in the United States (and truthfully, throughout the world), and we have been taught that if we eat right and get enough physical activity we can help reduce the risk of obesity and the other health problems associated with it.  While this is true, the American Journal of Epidemiology published a prospective cohort study that suggested time spent sitting was associated with total mortality despite level of physical activity .

Clinical research published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology also concluded that recreational sitting (like TV watching and other screen time activities) is related to increased mortality rates and increased cardiovascular disease risk regardless of time spent doing physical activity.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed at work and sit for hours on end

Is it possible to be an active couch potato?

My co-worker at WIC gave a very informative presentation on this topic that has really stuck with me.  She used the term “active couch potato” to describe the phenomenon of exercising everyday but then sitting for a majority of the day.  The research suggests that even if we are getting the recommended levels of exercise/physical activity everyday, if we then spend the rest of our days sitting, our exercise proves to be of little benefit in reducing risk of overall mortality.  Basically, we could be sitting to death.  What a scary thought!

Is there a difference between exercise and physical activity?

Dr. Elizabeth Joy, MD, works for Intermountain Health Care and focuses on sports and exercise medicine.  She defines exercise and physical activity like this:

Exercise: planned, structured form of physical activity done with a goal of strengthening at least one aspect of physical fitness

Physical Activity: normal, day-to-day activities you typically perform at work or home (walking to your car, moving around the house, vacuuming, etc)

Based on the research articles I read, it would be a good idea to not only recommend that we increase our physical activity but that we decrease our time spent sitting as well.  In the presentation my co-worker gave, she quoted Dr. James Levine, co-director of Obesity Solutions at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, AZ as saying, “If you’ve been sitting for an hour, you’ve been sitting too long.”

The American Heart Association recommends that children get 30-60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day and that adults get 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity and also do resistance training two times a week (3).  While there is not a recommendation on the amount of sitting time, it seems that less is more ideal!  Talk to your doctor about your specific exercise recommendations.

10 Ideas to Decrease Sitting and Increase Physical Activity

1) Take the stairs at work

2) Each hour at work, take a walk around the office.  You could walk to the water fountain or go to the stairs and go up and down a couple of times.  Figure out what you can do at your work to help increase movement.

3) Stand at your desk.  Many businesses are starting to offer standing desks and some are even getting treadmills put into offices for employees to use.

4) Walk to a restroom that is farther away, not the one right by your office

5) Park farther away

6) Stand and stretch

7) Get up and walk around the house during commercial breaks

8) Set a TV time limit

9) Walk over to the person you want to talk to at work instead of just sending an email when possible

10) Set a timer to remind yourself to get up and move

If we decrease our sitting time, we will likely gain more energy and be more productive.  TV watching has increased over the past decade is is the cause for most domestic sitting time.  Besides, if we are moving more, we will likely be able to achieve our other health and wellness goals because increased sitting time is associated with increased eating, and increased eating often leads to increased weight gain.  It’s a vicious cycle, and research seems to be suggesting that by sitting less we can reduce our risk of obesity and early death.

What ways do you try to increase physical activity throughout the day?  Any tips on how to avoid being an active couch potato?

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