So many reasons you shouldn't sit still

The World Health Organization ranks physical inactivity — sitting too much — as the fourth largest preventable killer globally. Americans spend an average of 13 hours per day sitting, and the effects of long-term sitting aren't reversible by exercise or other good habits. We asked Tyler Palmer, Wellness Coach, Parkview Health, what we can do to combat these scary statistics.

What would you define as a sedentary lifestyle?

A sedentary lifestyle is one where an individual is not getting the recommended amount of physical activity. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that an individual should participate in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of a more vigorous regimen per week. Recently, health professionals have begun to say that walking 10,000 steps (5 miles) per day is an ideal goal, and may reduce the health risks of inactivity.

Why are so many people considered to have a sedentary lifestyle?

One of the main reasons is the increase in sedentary jobs. Office jobs have increased by 83 percent since 1950, and jobs which require activity make up less than 20 percent of the job force, which is approximately 30 percent less than in 1950.

Quite possibly the largest reason of all is how easy it is for us to fold up in that seated position. We think it can’t be that bad, however, it's quite the opposite, because sitting is like eating potato chips — it's rarely done in moderation. We can use the beginning of Newton’s first law of motion as an analogy for how our brain and body function, “an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion.”

In his book, "Get Up!: Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About it"Dr. James Levine describes how we have learned that our brain develops from the stimulus that it receives. If we are sitting down and sluggish all day, the brain will function in that way during and outside of work. Neuroscientists have found that there are minute parts of the hypothalamus at the base of the brain that are regulating our daily activity. So, if we suppress all of that and sit down all day, it causes the brain to dysfunction because the brain is like the body, not meant to sit all day long.  

What are some of the hazards of being sedentary?

  • Increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and colon or breast cancer to name a few.
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction
  • Back and neck dysfunction
  • Carpal tunnel
  • Shallow breathing
  • Tight hip flexors
  • Impaired Achilles function

What are some signs/symptoms of low activity levels?

  • Pelvic floor literally turns off
  • Back and neck dysfunction
  • Rounded posture
  • Puffy pouch on the back at the base of the neck
  • Forward neck lean, causing head to put 10 to 40 pounds of stress on the neck
  • Low back pain
  • Carpal tunnel
  • Shallow breathing
  • Tight hip flexors
  • Impaired Achilles function

How can we incorporate more activity into our day?

One recommendation by Dr. James Levine is that the average sedentary person need to be up and moving 2.25 more hours per day than what they currently are. Some ways you can achieve that are:

  • Get up and move from your chair for a few minutes every hour.
  • Rather than sitting in a conference room for a meeting, have a walking meeting.
  • When on the phone, stand up and walk around. 
  • Standing desks — this does not have to be an expensive piece of equipment. Many people have come up with innovative ways to create a standing desk (I use a book shelf.)
  • Using breaks to walk, stretch, etc.
  • Stand at the counter while eating meals vs. sitting down.
  • Do some sort of movement during a commercial while watching TV.
  • Rather than e-mailing or instant messaging a coworker, get up and go talk to them.

What about people who say they are too busy?

Turn daily chores in to movement. Stand up while folding the clothes, hand wash the dishes, focus on proper movements (squatting, lunging, single leg RDL’s, RDL’s, seadlifting) when tying shoes, picking up items off the floor, getting up and down from the floor, and picking up your kids or grandkids. Never round your back to pick something up again!

Since the CDC agrees that 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week is ideal for health, focus on getting a 30-minute walk in 5 times per week. If a 30-minute walk seems impossible, work on three 10-minute walks. If you have to take your children to practice or a game, use that time to walk around the facility. During all breaks/timeouts at games, stand up. Outdoor chores, such as mowing the lawn, raking the leaves (instead of using the leaf blower) and shoveling snow can be counted as activity as well. 

You can also make small, daily changes to your habits. Walk to the furthest restroom at work or home, take the stairs rather than elevator, park farther away from places or walk every aisle in the grocery store even if you don’t need to. 


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