Is Sitting the New Smoking?
Sitting down with a good book and a cup of tea in front of a warm fire on a cold winter's day is my idea of heaven, so I was less than thrilled to find out that sitting is bad for your health!! Dr. James Levine's book, Get Up!: Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, lays out the case against prolonged sitting.
My son Alex taking a break
According to Dr. Levine, who is co-director of the Obesity Initiative for Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University and the inventor of the treadmill desk, “It makes perfect sense. If you’ve been resting after a hard morning’s work and then you get back on your legs in order to go back into the fields, of course, your whole body system is to be pushing what you’ve just had for lunch into your muscle, into your body so that you can function well in agricultural practice, which, up until 200 years ago, was what the human body ultimately functioned to do.
"The nature of the human body was to be active and moving all day. The body was never designed to be crammed into a chair where all of these cellular mechanisms get switched off. Obviously we’re supposed to rest from time to time. But that rest is supposed to break up the activity. It’s not supposed to be the way of life. [T]his very unnatural [sitting] posture is not only bad for your back, your wrists, your arms, and your metabolism, but it actually switches off the fundamental fueling systems that integrate what’s going on in the bloodstream with what goes on in the muscles and in the tissues.
"As a consequence of that, blood sugar levels are inappropriately high in people who sit. The blood pressure is inappropriately high, the cholesterol handling is inappropriately high, and those toxins, those growth factors that will potentially lead to cancer, particularly breast cancer, are elevated in those people who sit too much. The solution? Get up!
"The bottom-line is that if you’ve been sitting for an hour, you’ve been sitting for too long. We should all be up at least 10 minutes out of every hour.”
So what do you do if you're a student or you have a desk job, and it's expected that you are sitting most of the day? Fortunately, most classes are about an hour in length, so you can get some walking in going to the next class. If you have a desk job, set an alarm on your computer to remind yourself to get up, stretch, and walk around for 10 minutes.
If you are watching TV, get up at every commercial break and move. Go get a drink of water, do some jumping jacks, bend down and touch your toes, run up and down the stairs, etc. It doesn't really matter what you do, as long as you move!
Interestingly enough, going to the gym doesn't undo the damage of a whole day's worth of sitting. Dr. Levine writes, "“There are a couple of important points,” he says. “First of all, if you go to the gym, that does do you good. In fact, that is a phenomenal dose-response relationship. The more you do, the more benefit you get. That does not, however, relinquish you from the responsibility of being active throughout the day or of realizing the opportunities to be active throughout the day.
"What is interesting is that the molecular mechanisms that come into play when somebody sits for hours on end, if you think about it, are actually not reversed by allowing all of that sedentariness to occur and then having a bout of activity in the evening or even in the morning. It’s the hours of inactivity that are associated with the molecular mechanisms at the cellular level that are associated with causality for diabetes, hypertension, and even potentially cancer and other deleterious effects. "
While Dr. Levine invented a treadmill desk to counteract the effects of sitting, there are also standing desks and desks that convert from conventional to standing. There are also mechanisms that you can set on your conventional desk that have a platform that can rise or sit flat on your existing desk to effectively turn it into a standing desk when you want a change of position.
The first time I saw a convertible desk was on the set of a movie my daughters were in called, "Hope Springs Eternal" (not yet released). I was invited to check out the editing room, and the editor had a very long desk with multiple huge monitors on it. At the press of a button, the whole desk rose up to whatever level he wanted it to be. I thought it was a genius idea, as movie editors spend very long days in front of screens sifting through all the takes and angles of every scene to put together the very best way to tell the story.
My son Alex works long hours for our commercial construction company every day, much of it in front of a computer. To counteract the sitting, he likes to get up and pace while he makes his phone calls for work; he picked this habit up from his dad. Alex often logs well over 10,000 steps from his phone call pacing long before he even hits the gym after work!
The bottom line is that whether you invest in a standing desk or start pacing while you're on the phone, make this week's simple habit to get up more often, walk around, and stretch. Your body will thank you for it!!