The following is from a short talk I gave at a Toastmasters lunch meeting on the negative health impacts of sitting for extended periods of time and the health benefits of adding movement in throughout your day. If you prefer to read the rather than watch, skip below the video to read a copy of the speech.
I would like to start off today with a quick survey. As you read this blog, how many of you have been sitting for at least two or more hours today including work time, time eating or the time spent commuting this morning? How many of you have been sitting for three or more hours today? Four or more? If you said "yes" to any of the above statements, it turns out that you are in good company. A university of Vanderbilt study estimates that Americans spend 55% of their waking time or about 7.7 hours a day sitting.
Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns, including:
· increased blood pressure
· high blood sugar
· elevated cholesterol levels
· and not surprisingly, excess body fat around the waist
Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Due to these negative health consequences, some medical experts have started referring to long periods of inactivity as “sitting disease”.
Now before I proceed, I must admit that I too have been guilty of sitting too much and have struggled with balancing work demands with trying to stay active. In the past, I would do what many Americans do and that is go to the gym before or after work. Unfortunately, studies show that spending the recommended 30 minutess a day exercising doesn't completely offset the risk of sitting disease.
It turns out that the only true solution to sitting disease is simply to move more frequently throughout the day.
The impact of movement — even leisurely movement — can be profound. For example, the muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When you sit, these processes stall — and your health risks increase. When you're standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action.
Don’t believe that adding small actions will make a change? Then consider these two studies:
In the first study, researchers purposely overfed a group of office employees by 1000 calories a day. Surprisingly, even with this high level of excess calories, they found a handful of employees from the group who did not gain any weight even after taking into account differences in the participant’s metabolism. When they studied the movement of this subset of employees, they found that this group was more active than their coworkers. The termed this movement: N.E.A.T or Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, which means they burned more calories than the others in the group by getting up more frequently to engage with their co-workers face to face, standing while on the phone, doing walk and talk meetings, getting up to for some water or to simply take a quick lap around the office.
In the second study, researchers recruited 11 healthy college students and, using ultrasound and a blood pressure cuff, measured the level of normal blood flow through the main arteries in their legs.
Then then had each subject to sit for three hours working or studying at a desk.
During this three hours, the volunteers were told to keep one leg perfectly still, with their foot flat against the floor. With the other leg, the volunteers were told to fidget — tapping their heels against the ground for one minute and then staying still for four minutes.
The researchers monitored the blood flow in the volunteers’ leg arteries. They found that the blood flow in the unmoving leg declined precipitously, but it rose in the fidgeting leg, compared both to baseline levels and to the unmoving leg.
At the end of the three hours, the researchers tested the ability of the volunteers’ arteries to respond to changes in blood pressure. The vessel in the unmoving leg no longer worked as well as it had during baseline testing, which suggests it was already not as healthy as it had been. But the artery in the volunteers’ fidgeting leg responded as well as or better than it had at baseline to changes in blood pressure. Thus, the solution in terms of both increased blood flow and to burn more calories comes down to standing and moving move and limiting stationary sitting.
Please don’t take sitting disease sitting down! Standing and moving a little more each day tones muscles, improves posture, increases blood flow throughout the body, ramps up metabolism and burns calories. Find ways to stand and move and your body will thank you for it.