Excessive sitting. Some call it a health concern. Others say it’s much more, going so far as to call it an epidemic. In an age when more people find themselves sitting for hours at a time at home, in transit and at work, researchers are finding sobering parallels between inactivity and an increased risk of health complications and chronic disease.
According to Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., this is what happens when you sit in a chair for long periods of time:
*Electrical activity in the muscles drop, leading to a number of harmful metabolic effects. “The muscles go silent as those of a dead horse,” Hamilton said.
*Your body’s calorie-burn rate immediately plunges by about one-third what it would be if you stood or walked, dropping to about one calorie burned per minute.
*Within a single day of excessive sitting, or inactivity, your insulin effectiveness drops, raising your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. People with very high amounts of sedentary behavior have a 112 percent increase in the risk of developing diabetes, according to one study.
* The enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides – “vacuuming up fat out of the bloodstream,” is how Hamilton puts it – plunge, causing the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol to fall. This can lead to a 147 percent increase in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, according to Wilmot’s study.
In an effort to increase productivity and improve the health of their workers the Mayo Clinic offers the following work-related suggestions for getting off your keister:
Sweat Your Commute: Instead of driving or taking the bus/train to work, get up early and walk. Or ride your bike. If you have to drive to work, park at the far end of the lot. And whenever possible, take the stairs.
Take a Stand: Take advantage of any opportunity you have to stand. If you can’t get your boss to buy you an adjustable-height desk, then stand when you’re on the phone or eating your lunch. And trade internal instant messaging for a quick walk to a coworker’s desk.
Break for Fitness: When you have a break, don’t just sit in the lounge with a coffee and snack. Take a quick walk around the block or do some stretching.
Have a (Fitness) Ball: Trade your chair for a fitness/stability ball. Sitting on one of these all day will improve your balance and tone your core muscles while you accomplish your daily tasks.
Enhance Your Work Supplies: Along with pens, paper, computer and phone, consider resistance bands or small hand weights as important equipment/supplies for work, allowing you to do curls or stretches between meetings or tasks. And if you really want to dedicate yourself (and your boss allows it), get a treadmill desk. Yeah, they really make those.