Let’s talk about how we spend the 24 hours in a day… we can take 8 hours out for sleeping (If we’re lucky!). That leaves us 16 hours of waking time. How about we exercise for about 30 minutes a day, on average? That leaves us 15.5 hours. You’ll probably spend much of the remaining time at work, maybe some time with your kids, and probably at least an hour in the car. What precisely we do in that 15.5 hours isn’t all that important. What I would like you to ask yourself is this: How much of it is spent sitting?
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2003, about 55% of the average American’s waking time is spent being sedentary. As we’re learning more and more, sitting too much is terrible for your health. In fact, even if you get the recommended amount exercise, 30 minutes a day, you can completely undo those benefits by spending the rest of your day sedentary in a chair. It sounds like common sense that inactivity would be bad for us; if we’re not moving we’re burning fewer calories, so we’re more likely to gain weight. But it goes beyond that. Sitting continuously sets off a series of unwanted cellular mechanisms that immediately reduce your HDL and increase your triglycerides, two common risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Over the long term, we put ourselves at high risk for chronic disease, and that includes heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity, as well as postural problems.
The solution is simple on paper but not so simple in practice: move more. Most of us probably don’t realize how much we sit… every time we’re at the computer, when we’re in the car, when we’re on the subway, when we’re at the movies, when we’re watching TV, when we’re reading a book, when we’re eating… it’s a part of everyone’s life. There’s nothing wrong with relaxing and spending time in a chair; just don’t overdo it.
Of course there will be situations when we’ll be forced to sit all day. Many of us work jobs that require us to be seated at a desk most of the time. Luckily for us, there are a few solutions.
- Get up and stretch once in a while! Getting up to stretch and walk around for just 2 minutes every hour can mitigate the nasty side effects we get from staying seated.
- Get yourself a stand-up desk. Standing up while working is a great way to keep your postural muscles activated and avoid the perils of sitting. In fact, a great many famous people throughout history used stand-up desks, including Sir Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, and Leonardo Da Vinci. In addition to the health benefits, many stand-up desk users report increased productivity and creativity working in this way.
What’s the take home message in all of this? Just because you’re going to the gym for 30 minutes a day doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing your body good. You’ve still got 15.5 waking hours left in your day that can’t be ignored. Be conscious of how much you sit, and do what you can to stay on your feet. Staying active throughout the day is just as important for your long-term health as intentional exercise at the gym!