Healthy Hack #10: Move More & Sit Less
Have you heard the saying “sitting is the new smoking?”
A few years ago, Dr. James Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, boldly declared that sitting is more dangerous than smoking. He compared the health dangers of sitting for long periods with smoking cigarettes, arguing that the human body is not designed for long periods of sitting and when we do, we lose hours of life. (Since then, others have countered that his statement is a bit distorted, and that the risks associated with sitting, while significant, pale in comparison to the risks associated with smoking.)
Whether or not the statement is accurate, an exaggeration, or completely misleading, the underlying message is clear: that extended periods of sitting is unhealthy. Sitting increases your chances of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, dementia, metabolic syndrome, and back and neck pain.
Unfortunately, most of us spend more than half of our waking hours sitting down, either watching TV, driving, or sitting at a desk at work or home.
You may be thinking, “But I work out several times per week.” And that’s great if you do. However, the research shows that even though exercise is good for you, it doesn’t negate the damage done by extended periods of sitting. The cure for too much sitting isn’t more exercise. The cure for extended periods of sitting is regular movement throughout the day. Even just a little bit can do powerful things. For example, one study found that two minutes of light activity every half hour will keep your blood glucose concentrations at a normal level.
If you find that your lifestyle currently includes continuous periods of sitting, here are a few things that you can do to introduce movement to your day:
Drink a lot of water. Besides being a good habit, it will make you get up and walk to the bathroom often. If possible, use a bathroom that requires at least a short walk or a flight of stairs to get to.
If you are working in an office, walk over to a colleague's desk if you have a question instead of calling, instant messaging, or sending them an email.
Have walking meetings.
Block out movement breaks on your calendar.
Schedule 50-minute meetings instead of 1 hour. Use those 10 minutes to move.
Set an alarm on your phone or computer to stand or move every 20-30 minutes.
Use technology to help you move more. There are many activity and break reminder apps out there to help you move more during your day.
Modify your work area to encourage less sitting. Standing and treadmill desks get you out of a chair.
Park further from your destination. Leave time for a few minutes of walking after a period of driving.
If you take public transportation, get off one stop early and walk further.
Live or work in an elevator building? Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
The impact of movement through your day — even leisurely movement — can be huge! For starters, you'll burn more calories. Movement and physical activity also help maintain muscle tone, flexibility, and your mental well-being. This becomes even more important as we age.
So, whether or not sitting is really the new smoking, the takeaway lesson is that being sedentary is a prescription for poor health. Healthy hack #10? Include some movement throughout your day!