I have run regularly for over twenty years and have lifted weights consistently for longer than that. Working out is an engrained habit, something I take for grated as a natural aspect of my lifestyle. I consider myself an active, healthy person.
And then I read an article, “Is Sitting the New Smoking?”, in the August 13 Runner’s World which made me re-think how I define my activity level.
In the article, they pointed out that the average person spends around 64 hours a week sitting, 28 hours standing, and 11 hours milling around, which, given that there are 168 hours in a week, means that we spend almost exactly as much time sitting as sleeping. Yikes. The most jolting statistic for me, however, was that active people (ie, me!) spend almost exactly the same amount of time sitting as inactive people do. “It is entirely possible to meet current physical activity guidelines,” Selene Yeager writes, “while still being incredibly sedentary, and . . . sitting increases your risk of death and disease, even if you’re getting plenty of physical activity. It’s a bit like smoking. Smoking is bad for you even if you get lots of exercise. So is sitting too much.” In other words, even though I have regularly scheduled exercise times, in my “down time” I am just as sedentary as anyone else. And, according to the article, my exercise sessions don’t “cancel out” or counteract the negative effects of sitting–I am just as susceptible to the detriments of sitting as a sedentary person. In fact, on days that active people exercise, we are 30% less active than we are on off days, probably because we think we’ve “put in our time,” and deserve to relax a little. Ouch. I know I have practiced that logic.
Bluntly put, there is a direct correlation between the number of hours you sit and an earlier death. Why? These are some of the detriments of sitting, according to the article:
–suppresses enzymes that keep blood fats in check
–increases laxity in spinal ligaments
–increases risk of breast, lung, prostate, and colon cancers
–reduces circulation to the brain, resulting in less creativity
–suppresses production of LPP1, which prevents blood clotting
–tightens hip flexors
–increases the risk for diabetes by 7% for every hour you spend sitting
Frankly, these stats stunned me and made me radically re-think how I spend my days. One immediate change I made was to buy a platform form y office desk which easily allows me to lower and raise my computer and working surface. I now stand nearly all my office time, even when I’m grading. I bought the platform through Varidesk. Their research showed that replacing four hours of sitting with four hours of standing per day would, over a five day period, produce a caloric burn equivalent to running a 10K. So I’m kind of exercising 🙂 Sold.
I also try to be more mindful of my sitting time outside my work hours. I already had a fitness monitor which displayed red bars the longer I sat; now I’m not just ignoring them, but getting up more often and moving around. My goal is more than 10,000 steps a day; on average, I’m easily making that, but only because I run four days a week. My bigger goal is to hit 10,000 even on off days. My numbers are increasing, but I’m not there yet!
All of this to say . . . . I’m learning that true fitness isn’t just exercising regularly, though that’s huge. The best fitness, the most lasting, is a lifestyle of movement, a willingness to walk across campus instead of driving there, to stand more than sit, to get outside more instead of hunkering down inside during interminable Indiana winters, and to just revel in the abilities that my body has!