It was hard enough pushing ourselves to the gym once a week, let alone the three times that was recommended. Then we were asked to squeeze in 30 minutes of exercise into our busy lives every day. And now we are told that we are still not doing enough. Thirty minutes of exercise, it turns out, is only 3% of our day and doesn’t nearly counter the impact of how we spend the rest of our time awake.
In the last few months, there has been a spate of articles decrying our tendency to sit too long. Aside from the back and neck pain, varicose veins, blood clots and (forgive me) hemorrhoids usually associated with sitting for prolonged periods, recent studies are indicating even more serious consequences. In November 2012, studies quoted in the Globe and Mail and Scientific American linked prolonged sitting to breast and colon cancer. In the March 2012 edition of Time’s Health and online magazine, an Australian study (Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne) connected it to an increased risk of premature death. “The study found that adults who sat for 11 hours or more a day had a 40% increased risk of dying in the next three years than those who sat for less than four hours a day.” Yikes!
Now we all know that for every study that indicates one result, there can be another three that refute it, so it’s possible that the consequences are not as dire as the studies above suggest. But, for those of us who sit in traffic during our long commutes, then sit at desks for 8 or more hours a day, who rarely leave our offices for lunch or a walk, and veg out in front of the TV or computer screen when we arrive home, it is worrying. What’s a person to do?
As discouraging as the news is, the antidote is not as painful as one would imagine. It turns out that if we simply interrupt our sitting with just a few minutes of standing, walking, stretching, climbing stairs or other non-sitting activity every hour, we have the potential to improve our metabolism and reduce cardiovascular problems, according to a study by the American Diabetes Association published online in February 2012. This combined with maintaining our daily workouts should do the trick.
So how creative can we be about converting our sitting time to more active time?
Some ideas that the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Australia recommend include:
- Walking around the office or home whenever you are on the phone
- Conducting meetings outdoors while walking
- Investing in a desk that can be lowered or raised to sitting and standing positions
- Breaking up your TV-watching with chores around the house
For another take on the subject, please enjoy the clever, animated film below. It was the winner of this year’s Everyday Heroes Film Festival and illustrates the theme of “Cool Ideas For Climate Change.”