Tracy and I are spending lots of time these days working on our book. We’re dividing up material and writing away. My task for the week was our chapter on everyday exercise and the health benefits of moving more and sitting less. I did some searching and thought I’d share some of the latest news and commentary on the health implications of sitting with blog readers. Here you go!
First, the problem
Although dedicated runners are often confused and perhaps unhappy about the results of research regarding inactivity–”What? I have to do more than run five miles every morning?’’–the studies keep piling up. Newswire reported on a recentanalysis of the topic.
Since then another new paper, this one from the Journal of Physical Activity & Health, has extended the findings in an important direction. It’s the first to look at the long-term effects of too-much sitting. It also measures the cardiorespiratory fitness versus sitting habits of 930 men who were followed for almost 10 years.
What were the results? Of the 930 male subjects, 124 developed metabolic syndrome in the followup period. Metabolic syndrome is shorthand for a collection of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Even when you account for fitness level, those who did the most sitting were 1.65 times as likely to develop metabolic syndrome as those who did the least. (See table below.)
“Our research shows that regardless of your physical fitness—even if you have a high level of physical fitness—spending a large amount of time sitting puts you at an increased risk for developing metabolic syndrome,” lead author Anna E. Greer, Ph.D., told Runner’s World Newswire by email. “This is important because even those who exercise regularly still need to consider the amount of time they spend sitting.”
Second, a suggested solution
Sitting is killing us. It’s a fact office workers have been bombarded with over the past few years. Now researchers are trying to find solutions that match the desk-worker’s lifestyle. Being pinned to a desk, sometimes it’s hard to get away. The treadmill desk is an interesting approach, but recent studies say that it shouldn’t be your only form of exercise. Likewise, another study has shown that exercise can’t erase a lifetime of sitting. However, if you can’t afford a treadmill desk, a recent study shows that two minutes of walking for every hour of sitting can help prolong life.
Third, an outraged response and a call to keep the big picture in mind
Of course, if we take a step back, we can see a more troubling aspect to this obsession with deadly sitting: it excludes huge swaths of people working physically demanding low-pay jobs and is hugely ableist.There are many people who are, for a variety of reasons, reliant on wheelchairs or other mobility aids or who spend much of their time lying down or sitting due to chronic pain and/or disability. I can’t imagine seeing article after article decrying the dangers of sitting all day is all that helpful for a wheelchair user.
And fourth, from the Onion, a little humour
In an effort to help working individuals improve their fitness and well-being, experts at the Mayo Clinic issued a new set of health guidelines Thursday recommending that Americans stand up at their desk, leave their office, and never return. “Many Americans spend a minimum of eight hours per day sitting in an office, but we observed significant physical and mental health benefits in subjects after just one instance of standing up, walking out the door, and never coming back to their place of work again,” said researcher Claudine Sparks, who explained that those who implemented the practice in their lives reported an improvement in mood and reduced stress that lasted for the remainder of the day, and which appeared to persist even into subsequent weeks. “We encourage Americans to experiment with stretching their legs by strolling across their office and leaving all their responsibilities behind forever just one time to see how much better they feel. People tend to become more productive, motivated, and happy almost immediately. We found that you can also really get the blood flowing by pairing this activity with hurling your staff ID across the parking lot.” Sparks added that Americans could maximize positive effects by using their lunch break to walk until nothing looks familiar anymore and your old life is a distant memory.