Sometimes it’s hard to get yourself out the door to exercise. That couch and tv just sound so much more inviting, and besides, you’re so tired from a long day of work. There are just some days when that work out isn’t going to happen. I know.
Well, this may come as surprising news, but the way you spent your day may be even more important to your health than whether or not you squeeze in that 30 minute workout. I was first made aware of the potential health hazards of sitting at a seminar at the University of South Carolina, where I listened to a speaker discuss his latest research. He found that time spent sitting during the day was a stronger predictor of health and disease risk than time spent exercising, and those who spent 8 hours a day in a chair were potentially in serious trouble. What is especially troubling is that according to an article published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (MSSE) in 2009, leisure time physical activity does not reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) if you sit all day. Meaning, for all of you who have a desk job, getting in that 30 minutes a day may not be enough to improve your long term health.
Don’t lose hope however! There is a way to prevent this, even if you do have a desk job. All you need to do is get up and move every 30 minutes to an hour, even just to walk across the office or up a flight of stairs. Just the act of contracting your major muscle groups for a few minutes at a time can be enough to offset the effects of being sedentary all day. Here are a few tips to help you stay active in an inactive job:
1. Drink a lot of water. Not only will this keep you hydrated, but it will make sure that you have to make multiple trips to the bathroom. Even just that quick walk to the bathroom counts as physical activity, because you are standing and engaging major muscle groups.
2. Use a restroom on another floor if possible. Stairs are your new best friend in the fight to prevent heart disease, and if you work in a building with multiple floors, find a bathroom that you have to walk up a flight of stairs (or two, or three) to get to.
3. Set an alarm. You don’t want to be sitting an stationary for more than 30 minutes if at all possible, but sometimes you get wrapped up in work and forget. If you set an alarm every 30 or 60 minutes, that will remind you just to stand up and take a couple of laps around the office.
4. Stand up for lunch. The more time you can spend in a standing position, the better. Standing up forces you to contract stabilization muscles and your Vo2 (the volume of oxygen you intake to distribute to your muscles) doubles. Make it a habit to remain standing through the duration of your lunch break.
Just following these simple tips will help you reduce your risk for heart disease, AND you’ll be burning more calories during the day. Regular exercise is still important in maintaining a healthy weight, but on those days when you just can’t get yourself out the door, you can still feel good about taking the stairs at work!
Are you all interested in why sitting is bad for you? I’d be happy to write a post about the physiological mechanisms, but I didn’t want to bore you. Leave me a comment if you’d like to learn more!