Doctors and other health care providers have been making recommendations to exercise regularly for years. The current recommendation is at least 30minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. However, recent research shows that your level of activity during the remaining 23 ½ hours may also be important. Even if you are meeting this recommendation for exercise daily, you may still have a sedentary lifestyle due to other factors in your day such as your work environment, leisure activities or commute.
The Sedentary Behavior Research Network describes a sedentary lifestyle as spending the majority of wakeful time lying or sitting while expending little energy, which is common in most office settings. This is also becoming more common for children and adolescents with increased availability and use of televisions, computers and video game systems. A sedentary lifestyle differs from an inactive lifestyle in which a person is not meeting the recommendations for 30min of daily physical activity. This means that you can be inactive, sedentary or a combination of both depending on the amount of general movement and exercise you get each day.
Researchers warn of the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. According to the research, spending the day reclined or seated increases your risk of colon cancer, diabetes, hypertension, elevated cholesterol and mood disorders. According to a 2011 study in the European Heart Journal, taking frequent breaks from sitting can lead to a smaller waist circumference and lower levels of C-reactive proteins. Most of us agree that a smaller waist would be great. More importantly however, an increased waist circumference and elevated C-reactive protein levels are associated with increased risk of many common cancers. For this reason, the Surgeon General recommends that people accumulate activity throughout the day as well as getting 30min of moderate exercise per day. Activity in this context is simply a break from “resting” activities such as sitting at your desk or reclining on the couch. The breaks can be as short as 1 minute and as easy as standing up and stretching.
The key is to get up often. If you can, take a short walk around and get some fresh air. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
- Stand for phone calls. Some people are natural “pacers” when they are on the phone. If you are not one of these people, change up your work space to promote more activity. Move your phone so that you have to stand up to answer it or to make a phone call.
- Set a reminder on your computer for breaks. When your reminder pops up, take a lap around the office or use that opportunity to go to the copier or the shredder.
- Get a smaller coffee cup or water bottle. The less your cup holds, the more often you will have to get up to refill.
- When watching TV, take a break at every commercial. Instead of flipping to see what you’re missing on other channels, take an “activity break” and go for a walk. You can squeeze in a little exercise during commercials as well by doing some crunches or push-ups through the break.
- STRETCH it out! Even on your most exhausting and busy days, standing up to stretch is a great break for your mind and your body. A short break will improve your health and can rejuvenate and help you through a stressful day. Here is a great neck stretch for those that spend their day staring at a computer: Stand up, close your eyes and drop your right ear to your right shoulder. Hold for 30s and repeat on the other side.
- Get a pedometer or activity tracker. There are many products on the market to track your activity, steps or miles walked per day. Some cost as little as $5 and track the steps taken each day. There are more advanced devices that link to a computer application where you can log your meals and compare to activity to maintain a healthy weight.
Our body functions better, stays stronger and is happier with regular physical activity. You may even notice fewer aches and pains with increased activity. So, don’t just sit there, MOVE IT!