Sit All Day? 5 Ways to Fix This Real Health Scare
While many of us many love the idea of being paid to sit on our assets and earning a living, it turns out that sitting all day—whether you’re behind a desk, or even driving for long periods of time in a daily commute—isn’t exactly great for your health. “When you sit down for an extended period of time—for more than eight hours—your mortality rate goes up 11 percent,” cautions Dr. Oz, heart surgeon and host of the Dr. Oz show.
This is of special import to members of our community. The Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study, which is the largest ongoing study of healthy aging in the Southern Hemisphere, found that 30.6% of U.S. Latinos have a sedentary lifestyle, which is higher than the overall population at 26.2%.
But getting regular exercise isn’t the only fix to reverse this. Even if you exercise for, say 30 minutes (the bar minimum), but sit down for more than eight per day, you’re still at risk, say experts. “Sedentary behavior is something we need to take note of beyond telling people to get 30 minutes of activity a day,” says Peter T. Katzmarzyk, M.D., a professor of population science at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La, whose research study on the topic was published in BMJOpen.com earlier last year.
A more recent study released in October 2012 from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom and published in the journal Diabetologia, combined the results of 18 different studies of nearly 800,000 people. It found that prolonged sitting doubled the risk of diabetes and heart disease, two health issues that affect Latinos most.
Dr. Emma Wilmot, a research fellow in the Diabetes Research Group at the University of Leicester, and lead author of the study, found that on average adults spend 50% to 70% of their time sitting down, either at work, watching television or using the computer. These activities use up only one ME (metabolic equivalent) of energy. In comparison, walking from one side of a room to the other uses four times as much energy as sitting.
The study’s results also found that we could increase our life expectancy by two years if we reduced the amount of time sitting to less than three hours a day, and reduced our television viewing to less than 2 hours a day. While the latter should be easy for folks who aren’t glued to the boob tube, it’s harder if you work at a job that doesn’t keep you on your feet, but requires you to sit for at least seven hours (like the editors of Vida Vibrante).
So what’s a person to do? Dr. Katmaryzk says to try to stand as much as you can, like when you’re making a phone call. Or, rather than send an email or an instant message to someone who is down the hall, take a walk to their desk.
Add to that some stretching exercises while you’re sitting and you can turn this from being victim to victor. Stretching may help to improve your circulation by increasing blood flow to your muscles. And having good circulation can help protect you against a host of illnesses, from diabetes to kidney and heart disease. A 2009 study in the American Journal of Physiology indicated that people age 40 and older who performed well on a sit-and-reach test (a seated forward bend that measures flexibility) had less stiffness in their arterial walls, an indicator of the risk for stroke and heart attack.
Need some guidelines on stretching? Our resident fitness expert, Lorenzo Montanez, offers easy stretching tips to do while at your desk. But before you begin, he cautions: ”Don’t force the stretch. For each movement expend a gentle amount of pressure on the body part that’s being stretched. Hold your stretches for about 30 seconds to 1 minute and use deep slow breaths—inhale through the mouth, exhale through the nose— throughout each stretch for maximum benefits.”