On a dramatic television show, before revealing shocking news, a character might say, “You better take a seat.” I am about to give you shocking news, but instead, I’m saying, “you better stand up for this!”.
Sedentary people, those who spend much of their time sitting and engaging in minimal physical activity, have an increased risk of premature death due to a strong correlation between regular movement and disease risk.
That’s right. Just the mere act of prolonged sitting is going to shorten your life! Take a moment to think about humans and our existence spanning the generations.
“For the past 2 million years, our ancestors survived by hunting and gathering: foraging for food, finding water, building shelters, and making clothing. Our human genetic profile gradually adapted over this time, through natural selection, for individuals to survive and thrive in an environment that demanded large amounts of regular physical work. [Recent technological advancements] have resulted in the elimination of most physical activities that were once required to live.” O’Keefe, J.H. et al.
Obviously, we are a long way past the days of cavemen, hunters, and gathers, but even 100 years ago, in our grandparent’s generation, their days looked radically different than ours:
- they spent their days outdoors moving their bodies
- they grew their own food and learned how to preserve the abundance
- they made most items by hand since going out to buy products was not always an option
- they were free from the distractions of technology
- their sleep-wake cycles followed natural daylight, which meant plenty of time for restful sleep
Currently, we live in a consumer-driven world where anything we want can be purchased and delivered to our front door with the click of a button. We can all agree that the modernizations of technology have brought a multitude of benefits, but along with the factors that simplify life, there are hazards as well.
Sedentary Lifestyle Risks:
a. Shortened Lifespan
There is a direct correlation between sedentary behaviors and the development of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and depression.
In children and adolescents, sedentary tendencies negatively impact bone health, body composition, and cardiovascular and metabolic biomarkers, setting the stage for poor health into adulthood.
b. Poor Posture & Muscle Weakness
Many people who are sedentary complain of low back or shoulder and neck pain. Sitting encourages hunched, forward rotation of the shoulders, a head forward posture, tightened hip flexors and weakened abdominals.
c. Weight Gain
We are amid an obesity epidemic. In America, more than two-thirds of adults are classified as overweight or obese. Childhood obesity is the most prevalent it has ever been in human history.
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The metabolic activities of the body can be broken down into three categories:
- Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) refers to the calories you burn simply existing
- Calories you consume
- Calories you burn with activity
It is easy to over-consume foods with all the tasty, calorically dense food options available. These excess calories need to be burned off with movement and exercise to avoid being stored in the body as fat.
Ways to Counteract Sedentary Habits:
a. Modify Your Environment
Buy or make a standing desk, invest in a treadmill or cycle desk, sit on a large stability ball instead of a chair. Use ergonomic devices such as hands-free headsets for phone calls, a chair specifically designed for less strain in a seated posture, and anti-fatigue or balance mats in standing locations. Walk or stretch during phone calls instead of sitting.
b. Take Breaks for Movement
Set the alarm to take frequent breaks to stand, stretch, and walk. Ideally, spend ten minutes standing and moving for every 50 minutes spent seated. Short bouts of stretching, yoga, or Pilates are all excellent activities to improve posture and release muscle tension generated from prolonged sitting.
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c. Change Your Hobbies
You may be required to sit for school or work, but nobody is forcing you to binge-watch TV for hours every night! Rethink your hobbies and add new ones that involve movement. Take the dog for a walk, go hiking with friends instead of watching a movie, or cook a meal with your partner instead of eating out.
d. Start Exercising
Physical activity is any movement that requires energy, whereas exercise is structured, repetitive, and intentional movement. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week. That averages about 20 minutes per day. Aerobic activity refers to activities that increase your respiratory rate above normal. Having a higher percentage of muscle on the body will increase BMR and calories burned. Therefore, resistance training 2-3 days per week, in addition to daily aerobic exercise, will further improve health and body composition and aid with weight loss.
Starting right now, make a point to decrease your sedentary behaviors. Make a promise to honor your body, prevent costly disease, improve your mental outlook, and provide yourself with the best chance at a healthy, long life.