Sitting All Day is the Best Way to End Up in the Doctor’s Office

Photo By Alfonso Cenname

If you’re seated while reading this, take a break from sedentary life and stand up. Even better, stand up and march in place.

Researchers say that, on average, most of us sit 10 hours a day. This isn’t good. In this era, most of our day is spent sitting in front of computers, followed by a seated commute, and topped off with more sitting at home in front of a flat screen TV.

While prolonged sitting won’t kills us immediately, the latest from the Mayo Clinic
suggests it will shorten our lives by bringing on a host of maladies, including: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat in the midsection, and higher cholesterol levels. Frequent sitting also increases our chances of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Photo By Alfonso Cenname

It’s time to get moving.

“The human body was not designed for long periods of inactivity,” said Tim Cline, senior director of lifestyle interventions at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Health Plan. “From an evolutionary perspective, the only time man was likely to be sedentary was during periods of sleep.”

Even though Cline, 63, is often tethered to his office chair, he still manages to perform some combination of running, weight training, and Pilates each week. He also switched to a stand-up desk two years ago so he could alternate between standing and sitting throughout the day.

Cline also leads the UPMC MyHealth Coach Academy, where he trains and supervises health care professionals to support people who need to be rescued from unhealthy lifestyle behaviors such as bad eating habits, physical inactivity, obesity, and tobacco use.

He said the effects of prolonged sitting are so pernicious that even if you manage to get the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise or clock 10,000 steps a day on your Fitbit, your health can still be at-risk.

No need to panic. Even slight adjustments to our habits can help.

“What we may have thought of as annoying nervous jittering can actually be a good thing,” Cline said. For example, while seated at your desk, rock your feet up onto your toes, then back on your heels, and repeat. This motion will cause the muscles to contract and help the blood circulate and not pool in the veins in your legs as you sit for a long time.

Photo By Jamie Saw

For at least five minutes of every hour, stand up from your desk, and if you get a call, slowly march in place or shift your weight back and forth from leg-to-leg. Also, park a little further away from your destination, and when taking the elevator, get off a few floors before your stop and take the stairs.

Also, there’s another poor byproduct of prolonged sitting to check for: bad posture. It all stems from being hunched forward toward the computer or frequent cradling of our cell phones.

When Cline realized that he too, was falling into this trap, he added Pilates workouts to his schedule. “As I get older, it’s easier to slip into bad posture,” he said. “And the more bad posture that occurs now, the more it will impact overall mobility and functional capabilities down the road.”

Not into Pilates, no problem. Steal this move from the pros. Get a light resistance band from the gym or pick up one at a sporting goods store. Hold the band, arms straight, chest height, then, retract your shoulder blades and stretch the band until the arms form a “T” with the rest of the body.

“This move will strengthen the shoulders and help people have better posture while sitting and standing,” said Robin Gillespie, a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Corrective Exercise Specialist and fitness professional based in Philadelphia.

“I ask my clients to do this exercise” she said. “And when I see clients with bad posture, I point it out because a lot of people don’t know what their posture looks like.”

While most people won’t adapt Cline’s aggressive training schedule or call on a personal trainer (but you should), even a few tweaks to your daily habits can help fend off the poor health effects of prolonged sitting. Now, get up.

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