Fitness First: The Risky Business of Sitting

Krista Howell
By Krista Howell December 15, 2014 13:54


Krista-Howell-fitness-column-winter2012-199x300[1]Are you sitting comfortably?  That’s nice … Now stop it.

If you’re able to, stand up to read this article. By the time I explain why it’s so important, you’ll be glad you did.

Sitting for prolonged periods of time carries alarming health risks, including the much higher chance of an early death.

Researchers have found that the average American adult sits for about 13 hours each day. And while 67 percent of people say they don’t like sitting for that long, it is part of our daily routine of work, commuting, attending meetings, volunteering, eating meals, watching children’s activities, channel surfing and myriad other sedentary endeavors.

Children start out being physically active, but as they enter school they are assigned a desk and told to sit still. If they move or squirm too much they have to sit in an office for discipline, and later as teenagers their physical education requirements end. Bingo – we’ve created another sedentary adult.

Many chronic diseases are linked to a sedentary lifestyle. Prolonged sitting increases risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, orthopedic problems, circulatory system diseases and depression.

These reduce our “healthy lifespan,” a term that refers to the years before you need medications, doctors’ appointments and surgery to improve health. Our bodies’ ability to stay healthy is based on preventive measures, and standing more often is a small step that can go a long way toward better health.

You may be thinking, “Well, I exercise vigorously the recommended 150 minutes per week, so I’m not at risk.”

Not true. A recent study showed that premature death rates are higher even for so-called “fit sitters.”

Older women who were inactive for 11 or more hours a day faced a 12 percent higher risk of early death, according to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

A 24-year American Cancer Society study found that women who sat for six or more hours daily faced a 37 percent greater risk of early death compared to those who sat for three hours or less; for men, that figure is 17 percent. Those who did not exercise regularly and also sat for long periods faced even greater premature mortality rates: 94 percent for women and 48 percent for men.

Whether you are sedentary or physically active, you need to get up and move every hour for five minutes – or stand for five minutes – to reduce your chances of dying prematurely.

Tasks like making beds, taking out the trash, shopping, cooking and cleaning will keep you active and make your house shine. My grandmother always said women lived longer because – in her day, at least – they always did the dishes while men went to the easy chair. All these little small tasks help us remain healthy and independent longer.

In today’s office environment, there’s a lot of buzz about the “standing desk,” but it’s not a new idea. Thomas Jefferson did all his work from a stand-up desk, as did Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway. Today, too, some people believe standing helps them be more productive.

If you decide to stand more, make sure your shoes are comfortable and provide good support – avoid high heels, for example.

Whether sitting or standing, strive for good posture. Sitting slumped at your desk or in your easy chair for long hours will quickly play havoc with your body.

Posture should be upright with the shoulders back and the abdominal area tight – basically, don’t slouch. Using a large exercise ball as a chair at your desk or in front of the TV is one way to achieve proper posture while sitting.

Standing-desk treadmills are a great way to reduce sitting time but are expensive and perhaps unrealistic for many of us. Under-desk mini-cycling units cost a bit less and can help keep your legs moving during the day.

The best low-cost solution: Get up frequently. Stand while making phone calls, stretch, lift hand weights, take the stairs whenever possible, go for short walks – whatever you can do to increase time on your feet.

Are you still standing? Good. Now keep it up and look forward to more years of health and independence.

Krista Howell of Sonora works with cardiac patients and teaches senior fitness.

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Krista Howell
By Krista Howell December 15, 2014 13:54
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