Get up, stand up for your health
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As research increasingly points to detrimental health effects of too much sitting, there are small things you can do to get off your seat, said Steamboat Springs family physician Dr. Brian Harrington. And, the small things can make a big difference.
At the office, instead of texting or emailing a co-worker, get up and walk to their desk. Walk around while you are on the phone. Take a walk during your lunch break. Make a talking meeting a walking meeting. Get an adjustable desk.
The ideal goal is to get up and move for about five minutes every 30 minutes, Harrington said.
With a lot of buzz the past few years around the idea that “sitting is the new smoking,” Harrington is hesitant to equate the two. “I still think smoking is about the worst thing you can do.”
While studies do suggest excessive sitting (more than eight hours per day) increases the risk of death and some chronic diseases by about 10 to 20 percent, smoking increases the risk of premature death by about 180 percent.
In an article titled “Sitting is NOT the new smoking, contrary to popular myth,” Dr. Terry Boyle warned against giving much credence to the catch phrase.
Smoking is expected to cause at least one billion deaths in the 21st century, and smoking-attributable diseases have an annual global cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, Boyle points out. “Finally, unlike smoking, sitting is neither an addiction nor a danger to others,” he said. “Equating the risk of sitting with smoking is clearly unwarranted and misleading and only serves to trivialize the risks associated with smoking.”
They are quite different, Harrington agrees, and not a very workable comparison. “Smoking is an active bad health habit, while sitting is passive — an omission.” And, the causation and correlations in the plethora of studies on sitting can be sometimes confusing or misleading. Sitting does not necessarily cause heart disease, but reducing the amount of time sitting and increasing movement — or even just standing — can reduce the risk of heart disease. In addition, people who sit more might also be prone to other less healthy behaviors.
But the underlying message — the negative impact of an overly sedentary lifestyle on cardiovascular health — is a no less important one.
Getting up and about more often can decrease the risk of health disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, some cancers and “early death in general,” Harrington said.
Bowel function can also be improved by less sitting, he added, as those systems work much better when you are active. There really aren’t any of the body’s systems that don’t benefit from more activity, he said.
There’s also a mental health piece. For one, the surest way to get good sleep is to get exercise, Harrington noted.
According to a study published in The Lancet, which analyzed data from more than 1 million people during four years, people who exercised had 43 percent fewer self-reported “bad” mental health days, compared to people who didn’t exercise at all. The study also pointed to a “mental health boost” from mindfulness exercise like yoga and tai chi.
The message about sitting is also best when put into a bigger picture context, Harrington stressed. “We need to lead an active lifestyle,” he said. And, that does not just mean the hour spent at a gym or on home exercise equipment.
Across the planet, the communities that live the longest have activity and movement incorporated into their daily routines throughout the course of their entire lives, according to the Blue Zone research project.
As a lifestyle, “Regular activity throughout the course of the day is better than 45 minutes on an exercise bike,” Harrington said.
And standing instead of sitting can make a difference, as evidenced by the growing popularity of standing desks.
For bone health, its important to do things that are weight bearing (which includes standing and walking), Harrington said. He said cyclists often have problems with osteoporosis because cycling is not a weight bearing activity.
In addition to the reduction in risk for heart disease and other chronic illnesses, benefits of simply being upright and on your feet, for which the human body is designed, can include reducing the risk of weight gain and obesity, easing chronic back pain, increasing energy level, improving mood, toning muscles and boosting productivity at work.
The latest guidelines, Harrington said, recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week for adults — or at least 30 minutes for five days. The American Heart Association says that 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity is as good as 150 of moderate activity and recommends a combination of both, plus two days of muscle strengthening activity spread throughout the week.
Harrington notes a caveat of checking with your medical provider before starting any vigorous activity if you have a medical condition that may pose a risk.
The importance of being active is just as important for kids, Harrington said, and serves as a way to set healthy habits for life. Guidelines suggest 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day for children and adolescents.
Winter can be more challenging, Harrington noted, and requires a little more creativity to stay active throughout the day. “We all hibernate.” Luckily, Yampa Valley residents have no shortage of fun indoor and outdoor ways to exercise beyond the ski mountain. Sign up for a new class. Go ice skating or to the pool. Bundle up and walk. And don’t forget the little things, which, done regularly, can go a long way. Park in the farthest spot from the grocery store, get coffee for a co-worker and make a snow angel once in a while.
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