Get Up and Move It

The latest bane of our human existence has been identified, and it is sitting. Seriously, prolonged sitting can be really, really bad for us.  There’s a mounting body of research linking it with obesity, metabolic syndrome, cancer and increased risk of heart disease, as well as all-cause mortality.  As if that wasn’t scary enough, prolonged sitting also tends to distort posture, negatively alter muscle function and increase risk for low back pain.  Oh, and there’s also this little tidbit – exercising regularly doesn’t seem to completely wipe out the ill-effects of extended sitting.

Where metabolism goes to die...

Where our metabolisms go to die…

Most of us spend a lot of time sitting these days; an average of 9 hours every day.  A typical day may start with a seated commute to work, then multiple hours stuck sitting at a desk / computer / conference table, and end up with a couple of hours on the couch. The sheer number of sedentary hours is bad, but more so because it occurs in large, unbroken chunks.  Holding set positions for long periods causes certain muscles to get tight and others to go dormant, which is probably why so many people say they feel stiff after sitting for a long time.  As far as systemic disease, scientists currently theorize that the lack of movement and muscle action disrupts regular processing of fats and sugars in the body, leading to illness.  At this point, the specific mechanisms and physiology behind this nastiness need further investigation, but we know enough to compel us to take action!

Regular exercise is great, and there is a ton of evidence supporting its benefits.  BUT, it appears that even regular moderate to vigorous exercise can’t entirely wipe out the repercussions of prolonged sitting.  All the time parked in a chair seems to overpower the effect of even multiple hours of exercise per week!  The good news is there are simple steps you can take (in addition to exercise) to help keep you healthy.  Incorporating movement into your day whenever and however you can is a great start.  Perhaps most important is to get up from your desk every 20 minutes or so.  Set a task reminder, use an alarm on your phone or tie a string to your finger to remind you to stand up, reset your posture, and move around a little before sitting back down again. Little things like taking the stairs and parking further away from a destination to walk more are also great.  Here are some others to keep in mind:

  • Get up and go talk to colleagues rather than sending email or calling.
  • Take all your phone calls while standing.
  • Try “walking meetings” with colleagues rather than sitting in a conference room.
  • Use a standing or adjustable desk you can raise to standing height, or a walking desk if that’s a possibility.
  • “Buy” your entertainment screen time at home with activity (an hour of activity for an hour of TV).

That last one may be the toughest, but simultaneously the most powerful because it’s a equal trade of sedentary time with movement.

The phenomenon of diseases caused by sedentary lifestyle isn’t new, but changes in technology and the modern workplace are allowing more of us to move less.  Being more active throughout the day is a great way to turn that trend around and promote better health and well being.  This is both an individual and community issue we can all effect positively if we all just, “Get up and move it!”

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Michael Bento is an Advanced Trainer at the Clubs at Charles River Park. He holds a Masters degree in Human Movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Corrective Exercise Specialist and Performance Enhancement Specialist.

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