An increasing number of American workers spend their day in front of a computer. Often, the only physical activity they get for 8 to 9 hours is the tapping of their fingers on the keyboard. Then, after a long day, they head home and park in front of the television for another hour or two, getting even less exercise than they did at work.<
More and more, doctors and researchers are realizing that our weight problems - and the host of medical conditions that accompany our expanding waistlines - can be largely blamed on the sedentary lifestyles so many of us lead. Sedentary living, characterized by long periods of sitting, can:
- Increase your risk of developing diabetes
- Be as bad for heart health as high blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Increase your chances of suffering from depression
There's even evidence that spending too much time sitting each day is as bad - or even worse - than smoking!
Our bodies evolved to move. For the vast majority of human history, our ancestors were on the go. Now, thanks to advancements in technology, everything we need is literally a single mouse click away. There are shockingly few things that actually require standing up and moving to obtain, and that's wreaking havoc on our hearts, muscles, and circulation.
When you spend an extended period of time sitting, circulation slows to a snail's pace. Slower circulation increases the likelihood that you'll suffer from depression or anxiety, since fewer feel-good hormones reach your brain. Sitting also slows your metabolism, meaning you'll burn fewer calories even when you do move. Plus, the enzymes in the blood responsible for breaking down fat turn off when we are sedentary for too long, increasing both your waistline and the amount of fat in your blood, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Extended periods of sitting also shorten the muscles in your legs and weaken those in your back.
If you have a desk job, it's probably impossible to avoid sitting entirely, but there are some tricks you can use throughout the day that will not only break up the monotony, but also work wonders for your health.
- Stand up. Anything you can do at your desk while standing, do it. Take phone calls on your feet, or read printouts and reports while standing at your desk. Do whatever you can to get your blood moving. You can even consider switching to a stand-up desk, if you company allows them.
- Take frequent breaks. Researchers believe that you can counteract the effects of extended sitting by taking frequent, short breaks. Try to stand and stretch at least once every hour. Once every 30 minutes is even better. Whether you merely stand and stretch or walk to a colleague's desk rather than emailing them, be sure to take time to stretch and move.
- Move while you sit. Forget what people told you about a bouncy leg indicating nervousness. Literally any movement is better than no movement at all. If you're at your desk writing a report or dialed into a long conference call, bounce your legs, tap your fingers, or wiggle your toes - just get moving!
- Change the scenery. If your office has a countertop table - and you have a laptop - consider working on your feet for an hour or even a full day. Not only will the change of scenery provide a mental boost, but standing while typing will give your bum a break.
- Go shopping. I know online shopping makes life easier, but if you spend hours a day sitting at a desk, consider the extra walk to the mall or grocery store an added workout, rather than a waste of time.