We hear more and more about the dangers of sedentary living, and sitting too long in particular. Studies have linked sitting and sedentary lifestyles to a whole host of ailments, including higher risk of Type II Diabetes and shorter life expectancy. The longer we sit, the less our muscles move, and the less fuel they require. But we keep feeding them just the same, so that excess fuel (sugar) gets stored in our bloodstream instead of being burned for fuel. Thus the link to diabetes and other health concerns that come with excess blood sugar and obesity.
But did you know that even if you exercise every day but the rest of your day is primarily sedentary, you can still suffer from many of the same ailments — in other words, thirty minutes to an hour a day of exercise does not undo the damage done by being inactive the rest of the time you are awake.
So, how did we get to be a culture that sits or is sedentary most of our day? One might argue that we have no choice when we work in an office all day and have to commute, but I believe it’s the subtle changes that have occurred over the last thirty years that have made the problem worse.
Our commutes are longer — up to twice as long as even ten years ago in many North American cities. In fact, my home city of Toronto has one of the longest average commute times in North America.
We’ve replaced a lot of our TV watching time with “on-line” watching time. Twenty-five years ago, most of us who used a computer did so only at work. Other than for playing PacMan, not many of us used a computer at home. And if we did, we might have spent a few minutes working on the family budget. Most of us were not “on-line”, so sitting time at home was primarily for watching TV or reading a good book. When we did sit and watch TV, we had to get up to change the channel, turn up the volume, or fix the “vertical hold” (remember those days?). And, most of us went to bed after the nightly news ended. Today, apart from watching television, people sit in front of their computers for hours emailing, being on Facebook or Twitter, even bringing their laptops and tablets to bed. On average, North Americans are sleeping one hour less per night. That extra hour is not spent being phsyically active but instead is spent sitting or being sedentary.
Even at the office, we are moving far less than we did a generation ago. Emailing colleagues down the hall is not uncommon. Let’s face it, it gives us a “paper trail” but as a result, instead of getting up and going down the hall to talk to a colleague, we sit and do it all without having to leave our desk.
Most of us are working longer hours too. The average office worker in North America is working a longer day since the 2008 recession. So, even though the work day had been shorter than it was a century ago, it is steadily creeping back up. The difference is that a century ago, we did not have the labour saving technology we do today, so people were more physically active…by necessity.
And this spills into our meal times too. More and more we are relying on convenience foods for our dinners because we are so tired at the end of a long day at work, that we would rather open up a package of food instead of making it from scratch. Go into any supermarket these days and there are whole aisles of prepared meals waiting to be picked up, taken home, heated, and served. Voilá! The act of cutting up vegetables and preparing dinner while standing (remember stirring a pot?) has been replaced by heat, serve, and eat.
So, when you add it all up, we are sitting for longer periods of time. Coupled with serving sizes which have nearly doubled in the last twenty-five years, we are quite simply eating more and moving less.
What we really should be doing is eating less and moving more!
So, what to do? It’s still early — make 2013 your year to do just that — eat less, move more!!
How to do it? I wish I could wave a magic wand and make your commute shorter or subtract an hour from your long day at the office but I can’t. However, I can offer some suggestions to help you eat less and move more.
1. If you must send an email to a nearby colleague, do so but get up from your seat and hand-deliver it to them. Even better, save a tree and don’t print it. Send it and make a point of still going to visit the colleague and asking if they require anything more or need clarification. Or just tell them that you’re looking for an excuse to get up an “stretch your legs”. You might even inspire them to do the same.
2. Stand up for part of your work day. Do you need to sit and take that phone call? Do you need to sit through all of the meeting? Could you convince your colleagues to stand for part of it? If it’s your meeting, you make the call!
3. Walk up stairs instead of taking the elevator as much as possible. If you work on the 25th floor, if possible get off the elevator at the 23rd or 24th and walk the rest (assuming you don’t set off any alarms!).
4. Walk on your lunch hour.
5. If you go out for lunch with friends and colleagues, how about splitting an entree or skipping dessert? We managed on fewer calories in the past quite fine, when the obesity rate was much lower (and coincidentally we moved more) so we can do it again!
6. If you need to run errands after work, look for a parking space far from the store entrance. You avoid all the headache of jostling for the same spot that everyone else is, and you’ll get a few steps in.
7. Rely less on processed food even if you’re on a time crunch. Processed foods are packed with extra sugar, salt, and refined flour, which pack on the pounds with extra calories, require fewer calories to be digested, and spike your blood sugar. Convenience does not have to mean processed! If you have to “pick something up” for dinner, how about making the prepared food only a part of your meal? Buy some raw veggies or salad greens and prepare them yourself as a side dish. Not only do they provide good fibre to your diet but you’ll need to stand a little longer at the counter before you plunk yourself down at the kitchen table or in front of the TV.
8. Don’t forget to exercise! Those thirty minutes to an hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day are still crucial to your health. It works hand-in-hand with cutting down on the time you spend sitting. Make sure your exercise regimen includes both muscle building AND aerobic (cardio or endurance) activites — and don’t forget to stretch!
9. Whether sitting at the office or at home, get up and move at least every hour. It doesn’t mean you have to walk around a lot (although that’s not a bad idea). At a minimum, just stand up, even if only for a few seconds. It will give those muscles that you’ve been sitting on and holding in a flexed position a break. They will get stretched just by standing up!
10. Be aware of the time you spend on the computer at home and ask yourself, “how much of this time is quality time?” Do I really need to post ten cute kitten photos every day on Facebook? Quality over quantity is a good rule to follow.
So, it’s a new year! How about making a resolution that you can keep quite easily — make it your year to be “on the move”!