As a psychologist in private practice I believe I have one of the best jobs in the whole world. On a daily basis I get to sit down with perfect strangers and in a matter of minutes they are sharing the most intimate details of their lives: their fears, their relationships, their frustrations, and their grief. And together we look for options and solutions or maybe they just need a sympathetic ear to listen to their story. Regardless, these interactions can be life-giving for both of us and I wouldn’t trade this career for anything.
So day after day, client after client, I get to sit down beside them while we deal with whatever troublesome issues are presented. When I get home I often sit at my computer answering emails or I sit relaxing on the couch either reading or watching TV. I may go for a short walk. All of this means that I sit on my duff for most of my waking day and for the majority of the week. But now a series of research studies is telling me that my job is literally killing me; and not just me. Many other professions that require long periods of sitting are also in jeopardy. This includes anyone who sits for long hours each day tied to a desk, a computer, a television or the steering wheel of a vehicle.
Dr. James A. Levine of the Mayo Clinic cites one study in which adults who sat in front of the television for more than 4 hours a day had an 80% increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared to adults who spent less than 2 hours a day engaged in the same activity. Likewise, an article in Diabetologia presents the results of a meta-analysis of 18 studies involving nearly 800,000 participants that found that people with high amounts of sedentary behaviour had a significant increase in the relative risk of diabetes, heart disease, and death. And the World Health Organization reports that being inactive comes in fourth as a leading risk factor for death and is responsible for about 25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes cases, and 30% of all heart disease.
Like their parents, many of our young people are falling into sedentary habits like sitting for hours playing video games, talking to friends on the computer through Facebook, and studying for hours without an exercise break. And here’s the scary part: spending a few hours a week at the gym or otherwise engaged in moderate or vigorous activity doesn’t seem to significantly offset the risk (James A. Levine). The problem appears to be that when muscles are working they rid the bloodstream of fats and blood sugars but when we stop contracting our muscles, that doesn’t happen. The end result is obesity, diabetes and premature death.
The solution seems to be sitting less and moving more. The Pennington Biomedical Research Centre in Baton Rouge, Louisiana suggests augmenting your routine with something called NEAT or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Translation: low-impact movements that keep your metabolism humming and your circulation flowing (Tracy Erb Middleton, Women’s Health). Activities that qualify may include standing while talking on the phone, cooking, gardening, stretching, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further from your workplace, scheduling a number of mini-walks throughout the day, or even getting a stand-up desk like Ernest Hemingway, Leonardo da Vinci, and Benjamin Franklin. Those with more motivation, time, and energy can join a fitness club, go for a run or a bike ride, attend a yoga class, swim regularly, or get a pedometer and aim for the recommended 10,000 steps a day. Did you know that you can now buy a treadmill/desk combination for about $5000? Now that’s neat! The key is to move around as much as you can, as often as you can, because every little bit helps.
I always thought I was reasonably fit but I had no idea that sitting for many hours each day could cause so many serious health problems. I still love the work I do but I plan to change my lifestyle to include more movement and hopefully prevent my sedentary nature from slowly killing me. I hope you’ll join me.