Monday, June 4, 2012

Stand Up and Save Your Life ...

For many helpers, the day can pass without their posteriors ever touching a chair. For others, exactly the opposite is true; they sit in a chair all day long. And, for still others, the work of the first part of the day leaves them so exhausted that when they finish, (if they ever finish), all they can think about is having a nice, long, relaxing sit.

But, sitters beware! Research over the past five years indicates that sitting too long can have major health consequences, regardless the amount of exercise you get during your workout time. There is compelling evidence to show that we need to alter our sitting behaviour if we are to avoid weight gain, metabolic disorders, various cancers, cardiovascular disease and even early death.

In a 2009 editorial for the British Journal of Sports Medicine, N Owen et al reported:

Research, policy, and practice on physical activity and population health has focussed largely on increasing the time that adults spend doing moderate to vigorous intensity activities; 30 minutes a day is generally the target. However, recent evidence from biomarker studies and objective-measurement studies (and also from some prospective epidemiological studies) highlights the importance of focusing on the balance of light-intensity activities and sedentary behaviours - particularly the high volumes of time that adults in industrialized and developing countries spend sitting in their 15.5 "non-exercise" waking hours.

What does this mean, exactly? Well, basically, that we're sitting too much and need to find ways of reducing or breaking up prolonged sitting time. It means becoming aware of how much time we actually spend sitting (during transportation, at work, at home and in leisure time) and then discovering the most effective ways of shrinking that time.

It sounds easy, but I have to admit that, in spite of the research I've been doing to write this post,  I've just realized that I've spent the last hour and ten minutes sitting in front of the computer! (Excuse me while I get up and do a little walk about!)

Back again (and feeling much brighter and more alert).

So, let's start there - with the awareness bit. I challenge each of you to write down your sitting time in a log for a few days to see how much total time you spend sitting and which periods of the day need your attention most.  If you find you are spending most of your waking hours sitting, it's time to stand up and move to save your life!

Some great solutions for prolonged sitting are:

1.  Going NEAT. Dr James Levine, MD, PhD of the Mayo Clinic, recommends spending 10 minutes of each hour in "nonexercise activity thermogenesis" (NEAT). This means remembering to integrate nonexercise activity throughout your day - bending, turning, stretching, short walks. (eg  walking as you talk on the phone, delivering messages in person vs by email, standing and doing stretches 5-6 times throughout the day).

2.  Rethinking your notion of exercise to mean physical activity spread throughout the day rather than an hour of fitness at lunchtime.

3.  Shifting back and forth between sitting and standing. Doing either for too long will cause you problems. Try standing for a few activities for which you would normally sit.

4.  Trying to have walk and talk meetings instead of sitting around a boardroom table. Or taking care recipients out for a walk. Or booking respite so you can go for a walk on your own.

5.  Being active while you watch TV.  Only allowing yourself to watch TV while you're moving - ie tidying the room, marching on the spot, pacing, riding a stationary bike. Or, if this seems too much, try exercising during commercials to begin with.

6.  Interrupting craft and hobby times for 10 minutes activity every hour.

7.  Consider commuting by mass transit. It's not safe to exercise in the car, but you can do a lot of muscle clenching and relaxing and stretching while standing in the bus or Skytrain. You could also start parking several blocks from home and walking.

8.  Dancing while you sweep, vacuum or wash the dishes.

9.  Getting an adjustable workstation and anti-fatigue mat so you can move from sitting to standing and continue working.

10. Keeping a small water water receptacle with you as you work and walking (the long way round) to refill it as soon as it's empty.

12. Keeping a white board in your work area and standing up to use it for problem-solving or thinking through concepts or outlining a report.

These are just a few ideas. If you have other ways to add activity to your sedentary hours we would all love to hear them!


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