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Do you ever remember, as a child, be asked to stand and give up your seat for an “elderly” person? I certainly do. “Mi’ja,” my mom would say softly, “Let grandma sit there.” So I would oblige. My understanding was that “old people” just really needed to sit more than young people. Lately, though, I’ve been reading and hearing various studies demonstrating that sitting is actually not the best option, regardless of age. In fact, research shows that we might be sitting our way to poor health.
“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death,” says James Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. “Sitting,” he argues, “is the new smoking.” Sitting can account for a large portion of our day: Take into account the time you spend sitting on the couch watching television, sitting in a car, sitting at your desk, sitting at the dining table for meals or coffee, sitting to read the newspaper, sitting to call a friend, sitting to visit with a family member, sitting in church, sitting at the doctor’s office… Sitting really adds up to large portions of our day and years of our life. Sitting for hours at a time can slow metabolism, elevate cholesterol levels, lead to back problems and tight hips, cause blood clots in the legs, and negatively impact mental health, among other things. Obesity, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, cancer, dementia and anxiety are only some of the health risks that can be worsened by daily prolonged sitting.
There is good news, thankfully. According to Gavin Bradley, director of Active Working, after just 30 minutes of sitting, metabolism begins to slow, and good cholesterol drops 20 percent after two hours of sitting. But getting up from your seat for five minutes can get your body working again the way it needs to. Realistically, we will never stop sitting, entirely. Instead we can improve our habits:
- Take a sitting break every 30 minutes to walk around, stretch and breathe deeply (Set a timer on your phone if you need to)
- Ask your friends/family to go for a walk with you instead of sitting down to visit
- Stand when you talk on the phone, even if you need to stand near a counter or table for balance
Make an effort to alternate sitting and standing throughout your day. That might mean walking on your treadmill while you watch your favorite tv show, or standing during commercial breaks. The way you choose to move your body can vary. Don’t give up if you fail or get tired. Try again tomorrow. If you need to sit, sit up straight and be mindful of the time. Creating intentional habits takes time and effort, but with practice you can develop a habit of recognizing when your body needs to stand, move, or rest. Be well as you practice mindfully caring for your body. When you can, opt to stand.
DISCLAIMER: This article contains information that is intended to help the readers be better informed regarding exercise and health care. It is presented as general advice on health care. Always consult your doctor for your individual needs. Before beginning any new exercise program it is recommended that youmedical advice from your personal physician. This article is not intended to be a substitute for the medical advice of a licensed physician. The reader should consult with their doctor in any matters relating to his/her health.