I have asserted in a prior post (I Used to Be Vegan. . .) that the elimination of animal products from your diet is not enough to maximize your health potential. Well, unfortunately, neither is eating a nutrient-dense diet. In the blossoming field of inactivity physiology, evidence suggests that a simple, seemingly benign activity common to modern humans living in industrialized countries (in fact, you’re probably doing it right now) is an independent risk factor for all-cause mortality: sitting.
That’s right, sitting increases your risk of death from all causes regardless of how many hours you put in at the gym (or how many kale smoothies you drink). If you eat fruit and oatmeal for breakfast, jog five miles and hit the weights for 45 minutes then spend the rest of your day butt down, that’s a problem. In fact, the long-term effects of inactivity are so deleterious that sitting has become “the new smoking.”
To be fair, I AM sitting while writing this post, but I’m also eating breakfast, probably best done seated. Were I between meals, I’d be at my fitdesk (a wonderful device that I highly recommend), pedaling away with light resistance, laptop propped securely on the platform part of the stationary bike. I mostly only sit when necessary—a fact my cats do not much appreciate.
What’s so bad about sitting? Well, for starters, it has a very low rate of calorie burn. Maintaining the body in a seated position doesn’t require much energy (i.e., calories), and it’s a luxury that America’s waistline can hardly afford. The research on sitting disease is compelling, and excessive sitting has been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and depression.
Sedentary behavior compromises metabolic health. For instance, lack of muscular contraction causes an important enzyme, lipoprotein lipase, to shut down. Lipoprotein lipase is like a vacuum cleaner whose job it is to grab up dangerous fats floating around in your bloodstream and deliver them to muscles where they can be burned for fuel (instead of adhering to your artery walls or forming inopportune clots). In fact, muscular contraction produces a number of beneficial substances that affect how your body uses and stores sugars and fats.
How Much Sitting is Too Much?
Not very much. But before we talk numbers, do you know how many hours you sit each day? You can take this quick sitting calculator quiz to find out. As an avid mover, I was unpleasantly surprised by the results, but the knowledge motivated me to shave still a little more sitting time off my day (and my arse). So please take the quiz now before you continue reading.
What, I Only Get Four Hours?!
Don’t worry. If you’re an incorrigible couch potato or have a desk job, all is not lost. There are many ways to increase your activity level without a complete lifestyle overhaul. For instance, taking frequenting sitting breaks (i.e., standing up) requires the use of large muscle groups (quadriceps and gluteals) and can jumpstart lipoprotein lipase activity or insure that it doesn’t shuts off to begin with. Most inactivity physiologists recommend that you aim to stand up at least every half hour. Personally, I don’t think that’s often enough, especially if you sit a lot.
I practice classical guitar at least two hours/day, and I stand up every ten minutes then sit back down and resume playing. If you watch TV, you can use the commercials as a cue to stand up—even better, hit the floor for a few pushups or mozie into the kitchen to refresh your herbal tea. Ideally, only sit when you need to (for meals or knitting, for instance), and stand or utilize a treadmill, mini stair stepper, or stationary bike while surfing the net, watching Netflix, checking emails, talking on the phone, etc. And keep your intensity level low—no need to break a sweat here. The goal is simply to keep moving at an easy pace most of the time.
When I axed my sit-down desk in favor of a standing one a few years ago, I was really just trying to improve my chances of lifelong health. I didn’t expect a reduction in back pain and a significant increase in my energy level accompanied by better moods. In fact, what I learned is that for all these years when I’ve felt tired and torpid, I didn’t need rest (which almost always left me feeling even more lethargic)—I needed to move my body!
If you didn’t get an “A” on the sitting quiz, what can you do to incorporate more movement (and less sitting) in your life? Generate several possibilities and decide how you will begin implementing them. Combine your new sitting cessation program with a nutrient-dense diet style and you’ll be well on your way to becoming the healthiest person you can be. Oh, before you check those stock prices, it’s time for a sitting break!
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