Sitting for a long period of time can be hazardous to your health. There are healthy alternatives to sitting, even if your job is traditionally a sedentary one. Many tips are available to keep you on your feet and healthy.
A Mayo Clinic report suggests that sitting for a significant period of time is not even offset by a few hours a week at the gym. More moving is necessary to keep your body burning calories. A study shows that sitting too much can actually cut your life short. The risk of diabetes increases, HDL cholesterol production lessens and enzymes that break down fat drop by up to 90-percent. Your blood pressure can also go up by sitting.
Sitting can be bad for your heart. While sitting, muscle burns less fat and blood moves more slowly to allow-in the long run- fatty acids to clog the heart. If you are hoping for the six pack abs, don’t sit for so long. The abdominal muscles are not engaged when sitting, and can also lead to poor posture. The curvature of the back can contribute to spine problems, strained neck and sore shoulders or back. Poor circulation in your legs can present a host of issues as well, from deep vein thrombosis (blood clots) to varicose veins to swollen ankles.
People who sit to watch TV or use handheld devices are in the same boat as those who sit to work. A study compared adults who watch more than 4 hours sitting in front of a TV with those who sat for only 2. Those who sat for the longer period of time showed a significant increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular disease. These data are also applicable to sitting in front of your computer or any kind of screen.
Sitting can be bad for your brain too. Movement pushes fresh oxygen and blood to the brain, releasing chemicals to help thought and mood. A “stale” brain can also cause clots to cause a stroke. The average US adult sits for 8 hours a day; high school students, although they sit less, they are also affected. A study found high school students who stood in class instead of sitting improved their test scores by 20 percent.
So what can you do to break up all this sitting? Here are some ideas for those who sit for work. Instead of a regular chair, opt for an exercise ball. The instability of the ball will keep you on the move and make for better ab muscles and hip flexors; using the ball may also alleviate back pain. But use caution - the ball needs to be properly inflated and your posture should not injure your lower back.
Another option is the treadmill desk. One study in 2011 found that those who used a treadmill desk reduced their hip and waist size by about 2 inches. A variable-height desk, a standing desk or an indo-board (a type of balancing board) are some other alternatives.
There are many easy options to get up and get moving. Take calls while standing, hold meetings while walking, get up and do a few laps around the office. Making the most of your lunch break can be helpful: gather a few co-workers and use half the break to eat and the other half to walk. If you sit when watching TV, use the commercial breaks to get up and move; I have my TV in front of my treadmill and I exercise the entire time I watch my favorite show. There are so many good solutions to break the vicious sitting cycle. You just have to remember to do it and be creative!
To your health!
Anthony Pothoulakis, MD, FACC