The Toll of Sitting All Day

The Toll Of Sitting - sitting smoking .jpg

The Toll of Sitting All Day

Think about it for just one minute.  How many minutes a day do you sit? At work?  At home?  The drive for your commute?  Things that make you go hmmmm.  Well, more and more research is coming out to say that sitting is harmful to our health.  I wrote about this topic just last January.   Ned Levine termed the phrase, “Sitting is the new Smoking”.  He even wrote a book called, “Get Up” – a tale of how he came to the scientific conclusion that our chairs are killing us and what needs to be done in order to stop this threat.  He also happens to be the inventor of the treadmill desk – clever if I do say so myself.  And then just this week an article in the Wall Street Journal brought attention to this very same theme – the toll that sitting all day is having on our health – once again.  More and more people are talking about it and more and more research is studying the negative health effects of sedentary behavior.   There have been at least 35 diseases identified that if you spend all day sitting, are at an increased risk of developing:   diabetes, osteoporosis, cancer.  

The Toll Of Sitting - sitting smoking.jpg

Here are some general guidelines to help you avoid sitting too long:  For every half-hour working in an office, people should sit for 20 minutes, stand for eight minutes and then move around and stretch for two minutes, says Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University.  This is what I say to you Alan – it ain’t happening.  I have my patients scheduled for every hour.  If all my patients come in a day that’s seven hours of sitting, not to mention the charting that has to take place (ICD-10 should’ve merged better with ICD-9 codes, but that’s a different gripe for another day).  I’m pretty sure it’d look quite odd for me to stand during my session with my patients.  The only time I get to move around is when I’m teaching class.  So, it seems there is a bit of a predicament.  My only reprieve is if a patient doesn’t show.  I’m constantly getting up and moving around.  But to put his recommendations into practice is almost impossible and hence why we have such a problem on our hands.  Another way he terms it is this:  “People should get a combined two to four hours of standing and light activity spread throughout the workday.  The research also shows that aiming to stand for two minutes 16 times a day while at work could be an effective strategy for maintaining bone and muscle density.   Again, I won’t be able to get the two to four hours of standing, but this getting up for two minutes at a time, might be possible.  The bottom line:  break up your activity throughout the day. 

“Regular exercise doesn’t seem to compensate for the negative effect from sitting too much during the day”.  The article goes on to say that sitting causes physiological changes in the body, and may trigger some genetic factors that are linked to inflammation and chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  Whereas when one stands, it activates the muscles.  One area where this is of benefit is with glucose, if you stand and go for a walk the excess glucose doesn’t hang around in the bloodstream and instead will actually be absorbed in the muscles.  I tell my patients this all the time, “go for a walk after you eat lunch.  Get moving, get outside.  The change in environment does you good not only for better utilization of your glucose, but also because it’s been proven to help you to be more productive!”  Sitting at your desk and eating lunch is one of the worst things you can do! 

While the research is showing the negative effects that sitting has on our health, they are also looking at ways of how to get people to sit less.  The key is educating people and making sure they’re aware of the harmful effects.  Another strategy that worked was setting an alarm/reminder for when it was time to stand.   A few other helpful hints:  if you’re having a meeting with just one or two people, have the meeting on the go.  So instead of cooping yourself up in a stuffy conference room, make your next meeting a walking one.  Another helpful hint to parents with kids:  use the time that you’re at an athletic event to be on your feet instead of on your seat.  While it’s okay for you to watch some of their game, move around and use that time as possibly your exercise time – whatever you do, don’t sit for their whole practice. 

I used to have a 150 mile daily commute, 75 miles each way.  My work day was 6:30-6:30, 3 hours driving and then more sitting when in the office.  Sure my new job does require a lot of sitting, especially when all the patients come for the day, along with the charting.  But my commute is MUCH shorter than before and if I want to go out for a walk at lunch I can and often do.  While I’d love to say that I’ll be able to get a treadmill desk, the odds are that’s not happening.  I’m in the same predicament many of you are:  sitting is harming our health.   While the research keeps coming out to prove it, it makes all the sense in the world.  No need to scare us with the stats. 

This is where I challenge you to be mindful of your movements during the day.  Each day is different and no one knows what the day will hold.  When it comes to your work place environment if you know your job is more sedentary than others’ jobs, get up and get moving, as much as you can.  Many patients have told me that they just start working and “get in a groove” and don’t pay attention to the clock.  While I’m not asking that you break your concentration in the middle of a productive session, I am asking that you get up periodically and get the blood flowing.  Be mindful and move more.  I have a Fitbit.  When I first got it I thought I was going to use it primarily for my running.  I’d be able to track my pace, my distance, etc.  Where it’s really been the most helpful?  Tracking my day to day steps.  I challenge myself to get a certain amount of steps by a certain time of the day.  There have been times where I’ve been known to do a little jogging in place in my office in between patients.  You gotta do what you gotta do J  I’m able to tell by lunchtime if I’ve been up and moving as much as possible.  I take full advantage of the times when people don’t show for their appointments – I get up and walk around as much as possible.  And at least twice a week I go for a walk at lunch – I aim for more, but it’s recently been quite rainy here in the MIA.  Moving more and being mindful about your movements, that’s my challenge for you.