Everybody knows that being docile is bad for you. Growing research confirms that in order to stay optimally healthy you need to move. This is what your body was primarily designed to do.
Sit less and move more. It’s a simple strategy that will transform your health. According to a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, sitting for more than three hours a day causes 3.8 percent of all-cause deaths in the 54 countries surveyed.
Furthermore, reducing your sitting time to less than three hours a day can increase your life expectancy by 0.2 years. More than 60% of people globally spend more than three hours a day sitting. The researchers explained:
“Assuming that the effect of sitting time on all-cause mortality risk is independent of physical activity, reducing sitting time plays an important role in active lifestyle promotion, which is an important aspect of premature mortality prevention worldwide.”
If like most people, you currently sit more than 10 hours a day, it’s likely you can’t see how on earth you will be able to reduce it to 3 hours or less. However, you may start with baby steps.
The researchers found that reducing sitting time by 50% would result in a 2.3% decline in all-cause mortality (this was based on a mean sitting time of 4.7 hours a day).
The lead researcher said:
“It was observed that even modest reductions, such as a 10 percent reduction in the mean sitting time or a 30-minute absolute decrease of sitting time per day, could have an instant impact in all-cause mortality in the 54 evaluated countries …
… Whereas bolder changes (for instance, 50 percent decrease or two hours fewer) would represent at least three times fewer deaths versus the 10 percent or 30-minute reduction scenarios.”
To illustrate, if you exercise for 30 minutes then spend the majority of your non-exercise hours sitting, it is tantamount to taking a multivitamin and then scoff down French fries and ice cream for the reminder of the day. It’s simply not enough activity to offset all that sitting (and if we’re honest, how many of us exercise for 30 minutes daily?).
The World Health Organization (WHO) states physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for premature death worldwide. In addition, sitting is also linked with several chronic diseases.
One meta-analysis of 42 studies assessing inactive behaviour in adults found lengthy sedentary time (generally defined as sitting for eight hours or more daily) was connected with a number of health risks regardless of physical activity. This included: All-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, Cancer mortality, Cancer incidence and Type 2 diabetes incidence.
Once you become aware of the health risks associated with excessive sitting, you should consider how to change this unhealthy behaviour. The first step to changing your behaviour is admitting to yourself that there’s a problem.
For that to happen, experts recommend you monitor how much time you spend sitting down, because once you know the answer, you can take steps to reduce it. Recommended methods include:
- Access to a sit-stand desk at work
- Tracking how long you’ve spent sitting
- Setting goals to limit the time you spend sitting
- Using reminders to stop sitting (for example set your mobile phone alarm)
- Educating people on the health benefits of less sitting
Research shows that the installation of sit-stand desks reduced sitting time during a 40-hour workweek (this is America, not France) by eight hours and reduced sedentary time by 3.2 hours.
Further, the participants enjoyed having the option of a sit-stand desk, which was also associated with increased sense of well-being and energy and decreased fatigue while having no impact on productivity. Better yet, the more you stand up and move around, the more active you’ll tend to be and the more benefits you’ll experience. According to the lead researcher:
“The impact of movement — even leisurely movement — can be profound. For starters, you’ll burn more calories. This might lead to weight loss and increased energy.
Even better, the muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When you sit, these processes stall — and your health risks increase. When you’re standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action.”
The solution isn’t simply to swap sitting for standing, as staying too long in any one position may also potentially lead to problems. For example, excess standing can lead to back pain, varicose veins and even worsening of conditions like heart disease and arthritis. Preferably, try to get a balance between sitting, standing and moving.
The solution seems to be less sitting and more moving overall. You might start by simply standing rather than sitting whenever you have the chance or think about ways to walk while you work. For example:
- Instead of working at a desk for long periods of time, try a standing desk — or improvise with a high table or counter.
- Stand while talking on the phone or when eating lunch.
- Walk laps with your colleagues rather than gathering in a conference room for meetings.
Another simple way to accomplish this is to keep notice not only of your sitting time but also the number of steps you take daily. According to the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS), the average person only takes between 3,000 and 4,000 steps per day. When you walk 10,000 steps a day, it helps you to get up out of your chair and moving. I personally take about 14,000 steps a day, whether walking or jogging. I also keep my sitting to a minimum, get of my chair at least every 30 minutes and go to the gym 3 times a week.
As mentioned, maintaining balance is what’s important, and you want a mix of sitting (as little as possible), standing and moving (including both exercise and non-exercise activity) daily.
I recommend using a pedometer or one of the newer wearable fitness trackers, to find out how far you normally walk and adjusting your movement as necessary to get close to 10,000 steps daily. Almost all of us as a step counter in our mobile phone. This is only a guide; if you’re elderly, you might aim for a bit less. If you’re young and fit, you might benefit from more.
Also keep in mind that simple changes throughout the day can quickly add up to less time spent sitting and more time moving. Walk while you’re talking on the phone, stand up while you watch tele (if you’ve got nothing more productive to do than watching tele), park in the outskirts of the parking lot and walk up the stairs whenever you can. Walk to talk to your colleagues and neighbours (instead of emailing or phoning).
Even small movements such as moving your arm or foot may help. Among women who reported sitting for seven hours or more a day and hardly making any such small movements, the risk of all-cause mortality increased by 30%. However, women who reported making such small movements frequently fared far better — after sitting for five to six hours a day, their risk of mortality was reduced.
So if you previously held any doubt about the important of movement….. now it’s time to get off your butt.
I hope you were reading this whilst on the move…..
Udi Gon-Paz is Licenced in Monaco and the UK as a Wellness Coach and he is a qualified Clinical Nutritionist and Stress Management Therapist.