For some of you, running 20 miles a week may be the norm. For others, your idea of exercise is walking from the parking lot to your office – and on a good day, maybe using the stairs instead of the elevator. With such a broad range, how can I possibly say something relevant about movement to everyone reading this?
Well, I’m about to try.
You may have heard some buzz regarding the dangers of sitting. Some version of “sitting is the new smoking” has been a headline not only in health publications, but has also been featured in broad media such as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Huffington Post and network TV.
I’ve had several people ask me if this is just media hype or if the danger is real, and if it is real, what they can do about it. To answer the first part of that question - yes, I believe the danger is real. The science is strong, and intuitively if you think about human evolution, it’s logical - we were meant to move.
While saying "sitting is the new smoking" may not be exactly correct, there is cause for concern. I love how Bruce Lee, of Johns Hopkins* stated it: “You can't be harmed by secondhand sitting or get discolored teeth from sitting, unless you are sitting in a very, very unusual way.
This saying is meant to convey the health hazards of sitting too long each day. Studies have suggested that sitting too long can lead to a variety of health problems including obesity and diabetes as well as muscle and back problems. And the concern is that even participating in sports and aerobic exercises may not counter the negative health effects of sitting for too much of the day. The body may not be designed for the sedentary lifestyles that many now have.”
The data from several studies is strong enough to say that sitting actually causes some types of cancer.
So even if you run 5 miles a day, but then sit at a desk for 8 hours and plop on the couch at night, while you definitely did something good for yourself by exercising, you still have some of the same risks as those who don’t exercise at all.
The key is to add movement throughout the day.
The past couple weeks I’ve written about creating good habits (It Became a Habit, Unexpected Benefits). And whether you’re a committed fitness buff or have to psyche yourself up to get off the couch to walk across the room to get to where you left the remote control, adding movement is another habit with benefits for all of us.
I’ve personally taken this advice to heart and have a few suggestions to share:
1. During the workday, take frequent breaks. Stand up every hour. Whenever practical, I set a timer. When it goes off, I standup, get a drink of water, walk over to a window, stretch – something that gets me up and away from my desk.
2. If possible, change your working setup to easily remind yourself to move. Use an exercise ball as your chair or keep your phone more than an arm’s length away, so when you need to make a call or answer it, you have to physically get up.
My husband helped me by rigging up a solution so I can quickly convert my treadmill to a desk and walk while I do some tasks (see the photo below).
3. Have standing meetings. There are other benefits too (including that the meetings tend to be shorter!). Better yet, consider a walking meeting for a small group.
4. At home, or even when doing leisure activities like reading, set a timer and get up when it goes off. If you watch a lot of television, use commercial breaks to stand and stretch - and intentionally keep that remote control on the other side of the room.
The first step is awareness; become more conscious of how much time you spend moving vs. sitting and add in small changes - over time it will become habit!
Wishing you movement!