Stretching your legs more often may save your life. While no one would be surprised to hear that active people live longer, you might be surprised to learn that even if you exercise every day, sitting for long periods can shorten your life span. Read on to find out what the studies say and how to stand up for your longevity!
Our bodies are not designed to sit all day
Think about it: our ancestors were hunter gatherers who spent most of their waking lives moving around. Evolution shaped our bodily functions for a life on the move. But today, we are much more likely to sit on our way to work, stay parked at our desk when we get there, and at home, laze around like couch potatoes until it’s time to lay down for sleep. Even those that exercise 30 minutes a day are not immune to the health repercussions of sitting too much. Research has found that the danger lies in the overall amount of hours spent sitting without interruption.
Preliminary studies are in, and the news isn’t good. Recent studies have shown that sitting for prolonged periods of time can increase your risk for serious health issues, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and possibly cancer — even if you exercise on a daily basis.
Sitting increases your risk for obesity and heart disease
Long periods of inactivity inevitably lead to weight gain because your body undergoes a metabolic slowdown; you use less blood sugar for energy, and therefore burn fewer calories. Many studies prove that sedentary time is a predictive factor in weight gain. It is also thought to play a major role in your heart health.
A study from the American Cancer Society compared a large group of long-time sitters with people who spent less than three hours a day being sedentary; after adjusting for risk factors like smoking, the researchers found there was a progressively higher risk of mortality across prolonged sitting times, especially for cardiovascular disease.
While the jury is still out on how many uninterrupted hours of sitting is a problem, 4- to 6-hour intervals could be the tipping point. Elin Ekblom-Bak, a researcher from the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences said, “after four hours of sitting the body starts to send harmful signals.” She went on to explain that sitting for long periods of time also decreases the activity of lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme secreted by the pancreas that eliminates fat in the blood.
The silver lining is that you don’t necessarily have to become a fitness fanatic to live a long life; a study from the Karolinska Institute and the Swedish School of Sport and Health found that even light and moderate physical activity, such as walking or cycling, can reduce your risk of early death.
Activities to balance out your desk life
Now that you have been scared out of your seat, what should you do? First of all, find more ways to interrupt your sitting patterns:
1. Take exercise breaks. This exercise will have you standing, and at the same time, help relieve that pain between your shoulder blades. Stand in a corner, facing the room, with one shoulder touching each wall. Take two steps away from the corner and align your feet. With elbows bent, raise your arms to shoulder level so that your elbows contact the walls on both sides. Now use your elbows to push your chest forward, away from the wall. Inhale, push away, then exhale and lean back into the corner. Do two sets of 10 reps each, twice a day.
Some other helpful exercises are squats, lunges, jumping rope, and general stretching. You will get the added bonus of increased energy and productivity to boot.
2. Use your legs. Turn every activity into a moving opportunity. Instead of resorting to the phone or email message, walk over to the person. Chat with coworkers standing up. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk instead of drive, ride your bike, or park your car further from your destination. You will increase your longevity potential and your energy!
3. Get motivated together. Start a speed-walking or jogging group with friends or workmates; you can enjoy the company as you motivate each other to stick to a routine.
4. Make walking family time. Get a membership at the local zoo or museums and go often with family or friends. Hike in a park or walk the family dog together.
May you live long, live strong, and live happy!
By Dr. Maoshing Ni