I hope this blog entry finds you all safe and well. It is the purpose of this blog to provide you with information you can use to maximize your good health. In previous entries (which are all still available) we have looked at the effects of unhealthy eating, hormonal changes, poor sleep, and too much stress on our overall health. Today I want to alert you to another important factor that might be endangering your health – TOO MUCH SITTING!
We have all seen the headlines that read, “Sitting is the New Smoking.” The implication of those articles is that our sedentary lifestyles are as dangerous to our health as cigarette smoking. This notion has become even more of a hot topic in the last several months as we have been sheltering at home due to concern over the spread of Covid 19. It is not just those adults who are working from home, it is also our children who are now attending virtual school who are being forced to sit for most of the day in front of a computer. With many of our normal activities being curtailed or cancelled, we are all sitting more than ever now.
It should be obvious to all of us that it takes more energy to walk than it does to stand still but it also takes more energy to stand that to sit. The simple act of holding your own body upright uses up more energy than letting a couch or chair support you. Not only are we sitting more at work and at school but our favorite leisure time activities often involve binging streaming videos, playing video games and scrolling social media. Granted, many of us have been getting out and taking walks, cycling and running more during the last few months. However, even a full hour of such activities every single day cannot compensate for the 8-12 hours a day spent sitting at a computer for work or school or for the hours on the couch binging Netflix or surfing the internet.
Our sedentary lifestyle is not entirely our fault. Just a quick assessment of the ways in which every day life has changed in the last 50 years offers some clues as to why we are more sedentary now. I am old enough to remember washing clothes on a scrub board and hanging them on a clothesline to dry. In the past many of us walked to school or had to walk considerable distances to the bus stop to get there. There were no remote controls. If you wanted to change the television channel, you had to walk across the room. There were no dishwashers or trash compactors doing simple tasks for us. We now even have little robots to vacuum our floors! The list goes on and on. The point is that as automation has increased, physical activity has decreased. As activity has decreased there has been an increased incidence of deadly diseases.
Studies have shown that our sedentary lifestyle has now become a public health problem. Sitting too much has been linked to an increase in the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety. In addition, there are direct physical effects of prolonged sitting. One of the most obvious effects of sitting is the weakening and wasting away of the leg and gluteal muscles. Many have witnessed such muscle loss in relatives whose medical conditions have left them bedridden. Weak muscles that are meant to keep you upright increase your risk of falling and of strained muscles when you do try to exercise! Moreover, prolonged sitting causes your hip flexors to shorten which can lead to hip problems. Too much sitting can also lead to back problems from poor posture which can be a cause of painful disc disorders.
The good news is that we are not doomed to becoming victims of the effects of prolonged sitting. There are many ways to build activity into our daily lives, even if we are spending more time at home. Most of the recommendations I am making are strategies that I have personally used to avoid prolonged sitting. We sit or stand still during some activities because it has become a habit to do so – not because that is the only way those activities can be done. For example, marching in place or walking around the room during your favorite tv show (or at least during the commercials) can be just as relaxing as watching it couch potato style. As long as you don’t wander out to the kitchen for an unhealthy snack, this one simple change can make a big difference. The same is true of making phone calls to check on friends and relatives during this time of social distancing. Consider walking around the room during those phone calls. You can also increase your activity at home by walking while you brush your teeth, heat up food or brew coffee. Break household tasks into smaller tasks like unloading your groceries one bag at a time from the car or making several trips to the laundry room instead of trying to take the entire load at once. If you venture out to shop for necessities, park as far from the door as you can to add some extra steps to the outing. Using an activity device and setting a step goal of at least 10,000 or more steps per day will keep you accountable to move more each day.
Like to get lost in a good book? Instead of curling up on the couch to read, try audiobooks and/or podcasts and listen to them during your walk, run or bike ride. In that way you are improving your body and mind simultaneously. (In the interest of safety, experts advise that you use only one earbud or use bone conducting head phones so that you can be aware of your surroundings.)
Whether you are going in to the workplace or school or working from home, find ways to move around in the course of your day. Consider investing in a standing desk or stack boxes or books so that you can stand while working at your computer. Charge your phone on the other side of the room and move the trash can so that you cannot reach it without getting up. Take the longest route to the restroom and the break room. Set a timer on your watch or phone to remind you to get up and walk around for a few minutes once per hour. A recent study found that just 2 minutes of walking for every hour spent sitting has a positive impact on your health. Do a few yoga stretches to work out the kinks in your neck and shoulders after your mini walk. Try to spend a portion of your lunch break going outside for a stroll or walking the stairs if the weather is unfavorable. You will be amazed how a short walk outside can improve your mood and make you more productive! It really is true that “movement is therapy.”
As all of us become accustomed this new existence in the wake of Covid 19, we will have to make adaptations so that we can each be the healthiest versions of ourselves. The recommendations in this blog entry are just words on a page until YOU decide to incorporate some of them into your life. I pray that you will find them helpful.
Stay Safe and Be Blessed,
Yvonne Moore, MD
“Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit”
3 John 1:2 (NLT)