Let’s celebrate Valentine’s Day by talking about heart health. Not the typical “get more exercise” discussion. Let’s talk about sitting and how all that time in front of the computer at work and binge-watching episodes on weekends is affecting you. Let’s talk about getting some more movement and more action in your life!
You probably know that you need 150 minutes of physical activity each week if you want to reduce your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. But, did you know that the way you spend the rest of your day matters too?
In the last 10 years, researchers have been studying the effects of how we spend the hours that we are awake. It turns out that sitting for long periods of time is a problem, a bigger problem than we once realized. In fact, going for a 30-minute walk each morning is great for your health, but it doesn’t protect you from spending the next 10 hours sitting.
Why is sitting so bad?
It turns out that our bodies work better when we are moving. The movement doesn’t all have to be physical activity that raises our heart rate for an extended period of time and makes us sweat. It just needs to be movement. Cleaning the house, standing up for a few minutes, or walking to the restroom are examples of non-sedentary activities. And most of us need more of them.
But, what is it about sitting?
While scientists are still trying to understand why sitting seems worse than standing, they think that it has to do with the ability (or impaired ability) of blood to flow through your body while sitting. That affects how your body deposits fat, cleans up plaque and reacts to insulin. If you sit for long periods of time, that means that you are at higher risk of having elevated blood fats, more plaque sticking to arteries, and reduced insulin sensitivity. And those situations increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
How much sitting is bad?
Obviously, we all sit for periods of time throughout the day. You don’t have to stop sitting altogether to be healthy! Research suggests that your risk of disease greatly increases when you are sedentary for 10 hours or more each day.
So, if your job keeps you on your feet throughout the day, you probably are not at risk of sitting too long. But, if you have a 45-minute commute to and from work, sit at a desk for 8 hours, then go home and watch 30 minutes of TV, you should start to reconsider your sedentary lifestyle.
Is all sitting the same?
New research is looking at the “quality” of sitting. Since sitting is suspected to affect blood flow, it seems that sitting up straight (instead of slumped over) might not be as problematic. So good posture really does seem to help. Binge-watching 10 hours of TV probably is more problematic, because your posture is more relaxed (i.e. slumped)...and you might be snacking on less healthy foods while doing it (double whammy)! But, the research is still new, so stay tuned for more on the topic.
If I’m on my feet all day for my job, do I need to worry?
If you are on your feet for the 8+ hours you work (a non-sedentary job), then it’s unlikely you are sedentary for 10 or more hours a day. But, make sure that your days off are also active.
Often, people who have non-sedentary jobs do not take time to get 20-30 minutes of physical activity each day because their job is already active. Even if you have a non-sedentary job, you need regular physical activity that gets your heart pumping and builds muscle. Think about your activity needs in 2 categories: 1) Physical Activity (150 minutes/ week) and 2) Non-sedentary time (as much as possible). Your body needs both to be healthy.
Isn’t sleep sedentary?
Laying down while awake is considered sedentary. But, sleeping is not, because while you are asleep, your body is doing important work to repair and restore physical and mental functions. Get your 7-8 hours of sleep each night and then wake up and move!
Am I good to go if I get 150 minutes of physical activity a week?
That depends. If you exercise for 30 minutes and then sit for 8 hours in front of a computer, you are sedentary even though you are physically active.
There are many benefits to getting regular physical activity. However, research suggests that regular physical activity does not counter the effects of sitting for the rest of the day. The best scenario is getting 20-30 minutes of physical activity each day and sitting less for the rest of your day.
What are my options if my lifestyle is sedentary?
You have a lot of options. The goal is to stop sitting for long periods of time so you give your body a chance to move. If you need something more specific, start with moving for 3-5 minutes each hour. You can always do more, but that’s a good place to start!
Here are some ways people have incorporated more movement into their previously sedentary life:
How about standing desks?
Standing desks or treadmill desks might not help you lose weight or get in better shape, but they do break up the monotony of sitting. Research is being done on standing desks and whether they help a normally sedentary situation. While standing seems to be better than sitting, moving around is better yet.
So, this Valentine’s Day, show yourself some love. Some non-sedentary love. Get up off your chair and move around...like every hour or so!
We asked people around Jefferson County how they incorporate movement into their workday and this is what they said:
“I make myself take a 10-minute walk each day, usually during lunch. That way, I make sure that I don’t sit for 8 hours without moving. It also adds to my overall physical activity total for the week, clears my head, improves my focus for the rest of the day, and gives me a burst of energy.”
“I have an alarm set on my watch that goes off every hour. I make myself stand up and stretch or walk to the water fountain or go say “hi” to a co-worker when my alarm goes off.”
“I stand up while I’m on conference calls and pace around the room to move while I listen.”
“I’m at the front desk of my company, so I can’t do a lot without looking a little weird. So, every so often, I push my chair back from my desk and do leg lifts. It’s not standing, but it’s moving. When there is no one in the waiting room, I take my chance to stand up and stretch.”
How do you sit less during the workday?