The key to a healthy lifestyle is making healthy food choices and staying active, right? While that seems like an easy goal to achieve, we all know that life gets in the way. If you work at a job that doesn’t allow you to get enough movement or your schedule doesn’t make time for working out, living an active lifestyle can be difficult. You may have heard that sitting is the new smoking, but just how does sitting affect your health?
There are a few issues that immediately come to mind and, if you keep up with any health news, shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, such as a decrease in metabolism and increased risk of obesity; but there are other health issues associated with prolonged inactivity that you need to be aware of as well.
When you sit for long periods, your blood pumps slower, and your muscles tend to burn less fat (which also depends on your normal activity level, by the way). This can increase the risk of fatty acids building up in your cardiovascular system. Prolonged periods of sitting can also affect your body’s ability to respond to insulin, increasing your chances of developing diabetes. Excess insulin production encourages abnormal cell growth, which may be linked to an increased risk of colon, breast, and endometrial cancers. Sitting for longer periods of time can also lead to poor circulation, specifically in the legs, which can result in swelling, varicose veins, and even blood clots.
While all those side effects may not be immediately noticeable, there are some more obvious benefits you’ll see if you change up your habits and get moving more. For example, the first thing we often want to do after eating a nice meal is sit down and relax; but sitting down directly after eating can slow down digestion and lead to bloating, heartburn, and constipation. Getting your blood pumping after a meal, even with just a casual walk, can improve digestion and prevent many common complaints associated with it.
The more you sit the less blood flow and oxygen you get to your brain, which you need for the release of mood enhancing chemicals as well as, of course, cognitive function. In other words, get up and move every once in a while, to get a mood boost as well as to keep your mind sharp.
Let’s not forget what we often work with in the massage industry, the direct muscular effects of sitting for prolonged periods; like shoulder, neck, and jaw tightness which can lead to headaches, nerve impingements, and any number of other pain complaints. Your back, legs, and hips are greatly affected by that stationary position as well.
While at first glance the effects of sitting seem to be very minute, when you look at the bigger picture there is a lot to consider. This isn’t to make you terrified to sit, or to make you think that if you have a job that keeps you in a static position that you’re guaranteed to have problems. Instead, I hope you’ll take this information and keep in mind ways to get more activity into your daily life wherever possible. You don’t need to be walking and running all day every day to be healthy. Let’s face it, sedentary jobs are far more common at this point in time. But there are ways to get more activity throughout your day and stay healthy without changing jobs or rearranging your entire schedule.
1) Park your car further away from the entrance: This will give you a few extra steps which will be useful if you sit most of the day.
2) Take the stairs instead of the elevator: Get your heart rate up and those feel-good endorphins pumping while climbing the stairs.
3) Deliver messages directly instead of emailing your co-workers: Interacting directly with your co-workers will not only give you the mental benefits of socializing, but it will also help you to step away from your desk a little more frequently.
4) Set a timer for every half hour to hour and a half: Have a timer that you can set to go off every 30-90 minutes; whatever is best for your type of work and schedule. You don’t have to go run a 5k when it goes off, just get up, stretch, walk a lap or two around the office, go outside for a few minutes, or anything else to just take a break from your work and move your body a bit. Just 5 or 10 minutes can have a major impact. These types of breaks not only get your heart working and break up those periods of sitting, but studies have shown you’re actually more productive in your work as well.
No matter what your job entails, if it leaves you sedentary for long periods, find ways to get moving! Just implementing a few of these practices can get your body moving more and decrease the risks associated with prolonged sitting.