I have my semi-annual review next week. I’m probably not the only one who—when it’s time to see the doctor—makes sure he or she is doing everything necessary to get great test results. It’s kind of like stomping for a finish in a weird way. So to that end I read a lot of information about what I should do to be healthy. I mean, it’s something I would be wise to do regardless of whether I’m seeing my health care provider, but what can I say? At least I do it twice a year, right? However, leading a relatively sedentary lifestyle, I was reminded of the dangers of spending too much time on my tushi (the Yiddish word for “butt”).
I hope you are sitting down when you read this; it’s quite worrying. Um, actually I hope you’re not.
Most of us lead a sedentary lifestyle. In many cases, the stones move more than we do. I say this not to cause shame or guilt, but because – well, that’s just the way it is. Unless you’re an athlete or have a job that puts you on your feet all day, a fairly recent report showed that the average American spends about 7.7 hours a day on his ever-growing back. An Australian study says, “The average adult spends 50 to 70 percent of their time sitting;” most of his or her life.
It’s not hard to get there. Think office work, relaxing in front of the TV, sitting at the dinner table, reading a book, driving to work, streaming movies, playing video games – the list goes on. I mean, if we used our legs half as much as we used our behinds, we’d have shapely legs and firm butts, which certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing.
With the exception of walking my dog, running meetings, or helping moderate a weekly service, I spend most of my day in front of a computer screen. For goodness sake, I’m doing it right now as I write this piece (although I have a standing desk, so I’d like some brownie points for that, please). You may not be a computer jockey like me, but I bet your life is similar.
Worryingly, research shows that the lifestyle can be just as unhealthy as smoking.
Want to know the details? (Actually, you don’t, but I’m going to tell you anyway.) The first thing that happens from sitting is that the electrical activity in our legs stops and the rate of calorie burn drops sharply to about one per minute. (To put that in perspective, someone who weighs 160 pounds and walks leisurely will burn three to five times as much.) Of course, this much inactivity increases the chances of weight gain.
Within two weeks of prolonged sitting, we see significant increases in triglycerides and “bad cholesterol” (LDL). Adding insult to injury, the effectiveness of insulin decreases, increasing the chances of type 2 diabetes. After one year, the average woman begins to lose about 1 percent of her bone mass per year, increasing the likelihood of fractures and breaks. What was surprising to me was that after about a decade the chances of breast or prostate cancer went up by almost a third. From sitting? Really?
According to the same study, every hour of television watched after the age of 25 reduces life expectancy by 21.8 minutes. (By comparison, the authors found that one cigarette reduces life expectancy by 11 minutes.)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people with a bumper sticker that says, “Kill Your TV.” I loved my Ted Lasso as much as anyone. Also, reading my favorite sci-fi in the yard while slumped on the couch has the same physical effect as staring at a flat screen. Lack of movement is the cause of the problem.
The good news is that it doesn’t take much to minimize these dangers. We don’t have to run marathons or run in place during family dinners. Standing – just vertical – for just five minutes per class really helps, which, when you think about it, isn’t hard.
When the phone rings, get up. Stand up during commercials. Set a timer on your computer to shut down every hour and walk around the office during that time. There are countless small steps (pun intended) we can take to be healthier without having to completely rearrange our lives.
But the first thing is to take a position for better health.
Scott “Q” Marcus, RScP, is a life coach and religious studies practitioner, as well as a professional speaker and founder of the inspirational Facebook group, Intentions Affirmations Manifestations. Stay connected by subscribing to his newsletter at www.ThisTimeIMeanIt.com/signup.