WARNING: Sitting is hazardous to your health!

The perils of a sedentary life – Part 1

How much do you move in any given day? I’m serious when I ask this question. Think about it – on a typical work day of your life, how much of it do you spend ambulating through space versus sitting in a chair, looking at a screen, writing, reading, or just standing, talking with others? And what about when you’re not at work? Are you walking to get your groceries at the local market, bicycling perhaps to do your Saturday errands, raking your leaves the old fashioned way, mowing your own lawn, gardening or cleaning your house? Do you get up early to get to the gym for an hour workout or eek in your weekly Yoga class in order to counteract your sedentary week, before setting off to do your day of child chauffeuring and errands, etc?

Here we are, the most affluent nation in the world, with the best time saving conveniences at our fingertips, and ironically, we’ve become the most unhealthy, obese, sedentary modern nation on the planet. The truth is – American society sits too darned much.

We Americans are in quite a pickle, and the barrel is fermenting most of us – regardless of financial privilege and education. If we are employed, most of us sit all day at work. If we’re wealthy enough, we often parcel out our life maintenance: household chores go to the labor force for lack of time or interest in these banal necessities. If we don’t have the money to do so, we’re stressed since we have even less leisure time because we are stuck cleaning up our own life. Perhaps we delegate the more labor intensive tasks to our children. If we’re poor, we may be even more unfortunate- we may not own a home but life maintenance still applies, plus, we lack the money and access to healthy food and all too often our diet becomes overloaded with high calorie low quality processed junk.

And yet, our American culture prevails – so we sit.

According to the April 17, 2011, New York Times Magazine article, “Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?

…for most of us, when we’re awake and not moving, we’re sitting. This is your body on chairs: Electrical activity in the muscles drops – “the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,”… leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects. Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked. Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rises. So does the risk of being obese. The enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides – for “vacuuming up the fat from our bloodstream,”… plunge, which in turn causes the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol to fall… People who sit too much shave a few years off their lives.

Fascinated by the effects of movement on our human body, Dr. James Levine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester , MN, has become a leader in an emerging field called inactivity studies. His initial question, “Why do some people who consume the same amount of food as others gain more weight?“ prompted six years of research utilizing the fascinating invention of motion detecting underwear. This device monitors every movement the wearers make, whether lying, walking, standing, or sitting. The bottom line (couldn’t resist) of years of research is this: “Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterward or hit the gym. It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin.”

WE ARE MEANT TO MOVE IT, MOVE IT, MOVE IT – like all animals on this planet. Regularity counts, constancy of movement adds up, otherwise the flow of our internal systems turns to sludge and becomes much less efficient. This makes complete sense doesn’t it? Consider a clean flowing stream. It needs circulation – a current – to maintain the flow, otherwise stagnant pools of muck collect and putrefy, gumming up the works.

Even more than an hour’s worth of concentrated intensity, the small, often undervalued everyday movements of life count and qualify as healthy, necessary regulators of good metabolism. So here’s the challenge and the opportunity: In the next two weeks, HOW can you bring more movement into your daily life? If you are overweight to any degree of dissatisfaction, a middle-aged reader, or someone who wants to take care of your body (so it can take care of you!), I say DO IT, and don’t underestimate the small stuff!

In Part 2 – We’ll look at possible ways to integrate movement into your life.

Until next time – Keep me posted!


Photo credit: Amuised (Used with permission under Creative Commons license.)

4 thoughts on “WARNING: Sitting is hazardous to your health!

  1. My insurance doesn’t cover motion detecting underwear, so instead I’m programming my computer to scold me every 15 minutes to get up and move around.

    1. …and that is on the top of my list for solutions, which I’ll offer next article! Well done Ira!
      Do you think you’ll listen and follow the advice?

      Thanks for the post, and let me know if every 15 minutes feels too frequent – perhaps every 45?

  2. Dear Ina! I think it’s amazing that you wrote this right now! Just today, I was sitting in a chair frantically correcting 30 essays as fast as I could for an hour and a half and when I got up, I could barely move!!! My neck hurt, back, shoulders, legs were asleep. Terrible. I was alone in my classroom and have five minutes to spare so I started jumping around – jumping jacks, running in place, cleaning up bits of lint from nearby desks and lo and behold, after just a little bit of TLC, my body responded, came alive and worked. It got me to thinking about the topic of your article. What happens if we sit, sit, sit all the time or almost all the time. Sleeping sludge!!!!! Argh!!!! Thanks for the great reminder! Great piece!

    1. I am heartened to hear that you made a visceral connection with my article to your moment to moment life. That is fabulous Maryann because I feel THAT is how possibility and new ways of approaching our life/style really integrate themselves. Identifying what you did, as the “problem”,connecting it and then beginning the antidote….AHHHHHH. Sleeping sludge – great image!

      So, with the mission of teaching comes the sedentary aspect of grading papers. HOW can you do it in the most user friendly way for your body? As Ira suggested in the comment above – perhaps setting an alarm on your computer when you’re grading – like every 40 minutes – to GET UP and move it -move it – move it?

      More on solutions next article….please notice if you come up w/ any solutions in the next 2 weeks – so you can add yours to the mix.
      Thanks for the post!

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