The Truth About the Sedentary Lifestyle (Hint: It Might Kill You)
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We have all heard that sedentary lifestyles lead to a greater probability of mortality. That means that everyone should get out of their chairs, get off their couches, shut off the television and computer and get moving. The more moving we all do, the healthier we'll become. Let's look at this more closely.
As you can see in this and this studies, higher amounts of daily total sitting time are associated with greater risk of all-cause mortality. The studies included people of ages between 18-65 from 20 different countries. Conclusions remain the same. So, what can be done to change lifestyle habits and get people up from behind their desks?
What is a sedentary lifestyle?
When we talk about being sedentary, we talk about people who spend the bulk of their awake time sitting or lying on a couch or chair in front of a television or computer, moving only occasionally to get something to eat or drink.
But a sedentary lifestyle also includes those people who drive for a living – long distance truck drivers, bus drivers, taxi drivers, etc. It also includes those who sit behind a desk all day long. Spending most of the day in a sitting position and moving less often is a big part of the problem. If our bodies are not moving, we are not using our muscles. When they say, “use it or lose it”, that includes muscle activity. People who don't use their bodies for long periods of time find it harder and harder to move around as time goes by.
What habits should you develop instead?
The easiest way to keep healthy and keep moving is to walk. One of the best habits to get into is to take a long walk after dinner. Many couples have started to acquire the habit. Getting out of the house after a meal is a great time to talk about the day, solve problems, bond more and reduce any stress that might have built up during the day. You can even build a walking habit to help you lose weight.
A brisk walk is great for the heart and great to keep the muscles working and gain more strength. It doesn't take much effort to go for a walk, and it's easy to find a buddy to go along with you if you don't have one already. See three reasons to start step walking habit
Another great way to get some much needed exercise is to go for a bike ride. Bike rides allow anyone to see some beautiful scenery and just get away from it all for an hour or two.
You can head out in any direction. You can follow bike paths, which are growing in popularity in many places, or you can find quieter roads away from busy traffic so that you can have a peaceful yet stimulating ride. It's great for the mind and body. And you never know what nature will bring your way during your rides.
Running is another way to get your heart rate up and even prepare for longer distance marathons. If you enjoy running, it helps to get away from your problems any time of day.
Many people take their lunch time from work and go for a run. It clears the mind, changes perspective and gives an often much needed boost of energy before taking a shower and getting back to work. It can really change your day and keep your health on a better track than sitting behind a desk.
Schools are creating the habit
Schools are beginning to understand that children should start moving around more, as well. Sitting at a desk all day long can begin the problem of a sedentary lifestyle, so many schools across the world are changing student desks.
Many new desks transform from a sitting desk to a standing desk. Students find that, if they get tired or restless, being able to stand and do their work gives them a burst of energy. They can flex their muscles, move around as they read or work out problems, and this often wakes them up if they are beginning to tire.
If children learn this lesson from their early days in school, by the time they reach adulthood, sitting all day will be so foreign to them that it won't even occur to them to live that way. And so, hopefully, this will lead to healthier lifestyles for everyone.
Students also have a lot of sports included in their school curriculum. But, as adults, sports are sometimes harder to include. And yet, there are so many that are available to everyone.
What about standing desks?
Standing and walking desks have created some buzz in the last couple of years as a solution to battle the sedentary lifestyle that has raised as a consequence of technology. But there are some things you should know before using them.
Most people working on standard desks (sitting desks) commonly show symptoms like upper back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain. And, in the long term, bad postures can end up with spine or mild back injuries, we all know that. But these problems might show as well on people using standing desks if they do not set up the height correctly.
All things considered however, the problems of using standing desks is more about using them for long periods of time with improper posture than them being inherently bad. If you have a sedentary lifestyle it is far better to use a standing desk than to simply sit for hours. However, getting up and moving will ALWAYS be the best option.
Walking desks are preferable over standing desks, since they promote the movement of the knees and they also help to shift the weight from one leg to another. A possible downside of walking desks is that not everyone can use them within their working environment. Some offices establish dress codes prohibiting the use of comfortable shoes. These types of desks are more common among people who work from home or in super-modern companies that like to be innovative with their employees.
Find out more about walking/standing desks to combat the sedentary lifestyle
Inexpensive standing desk extensions
These are decent quality and very inexpensive. However they are a little bit flimsy and look a bit less professional. A good option if you want to see if standing desks are for you, but not an option that you are likely to use for years to come.
High Quality Standing Desk Extensions
These are really high quality additions for your existing desk. They are large and can fit quite a bit of electronics on the top. IN the "down" position they add very little height to your desk. When fully extended they can go high enough to accommodate someone 6 feet and 4 inches tall.
These desks are study and good looking. Designed to become part of your desk for easy withing back and forth when you want to stand, stretch and work for a bit.
These desks will actually replace your own desk. Some of these may be a small, tall desk where you can work with a laptop, others are full sized desks. Most have some form of variable height adjustment for the possibility of use while sitting, but some will only work in a standing position.
These desks are really the best. But they are also the most expensive. Sometimes by a wide margin. With these desks you can accomplish your tasks while also getting in some movement and mild exercise. These desks are far more natural. But they ain't cheap!
As a general rule, when you work on a sitting desk, you should take breaks to stand up every 45-60 minutes. And if you work on a standing desk, you should take breaks to sit or lay down every 45-60 minutes. This way, you are helping yourself to be less sedentary while also taking care of your spine and joints.
Take some action right now
Most neighborhoods have basketball courts readily available. It can be so much fun to get friends together for a game. Running up and down the court, dribbling the ball, jumping and shooting the ball into the net are all heart healthy.
Similarly, tennis courts can be seen in some neighborhoods, and that, too, is a great activity to stay active and healthy. Bowling, while not as strenuous as the first two listed here, keeps the body moving and uses different muscle groups. Bowling two or three strings on a regular basis is a great way to stay healthy.
Join the YMCA and get in some exercise classes. There is something for everyone. For those that include a pool, water exercise is especially invigorating. You can move around much more in water and exercise easier while still using your muscles.
An hour in the water can feel like you've done nothing until the next day when your muscles let you know how much they have been used. It's fun, very friendly for people not used to exercise, and perfect for those who want to end their sedentary days permanently.
In fact, one of the best methods of beating a sedentary lifestyle is simply getting up and walking. Even short 5 minute walks while on your breaks will get your blood flowing. The benefits of walking are plentiful, and there is no simpler form of exercise.
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About the Author
Dr. Rogelio Santos is a spine surgeon and founder of Santos Traumatología. He likes to inspire trust in his patients so they can feel safe and make better decisions about their health, and leave the sedentary lifestyle behind them.