We all know that exercise has a variety of valuable benefits. It helps you control your weight, strengthens your heart, and helps lower blood sugar levels and blood pressure, not to mention making you happier and sharper. If you meet national recommendations to exercise most days of the week for 30 or more minutes, you are probably reaping many of these rewards.
Exercising regularly is a great start, but what is becoming clearer is that what you do the rest of the day affects your health, too. Sitting all day at work or home can wreak havoc on your physical and mental health. Today, I would like tell you the truth about what sitting is doing to you, and what you can do to fight back.
Why Sitting Is So Easy
Most of us do not consider ourselves lazy. We get up to exercise, work hard all day, and take care of the home and family in the evenings and on weekends. If you are a typical American, though, you may spend the majority of your day sitting without even realizing it. From the time you get to work until the time you leave in the evening, you might barely move a muscle except during break and lunch times. Modern conveniences make this possible.
- With cars and drive-throughs, you do not even need to get up to grab a meal.
- Elevators and escalators allow you to get around the building without using stairs.
- Email and text messages let you conduct business without getting up to meet a colleague face-to-face.
- Remote controls and now smartphones let you control the thermostat, television, and home alarm system without standing up.
Physical Effects of Sitting All Day
While these technologies can make life more comfortable and make work easier, they can sneakily be harming your health. First, when you sit all day, your metabolism is slower than if you are moving around periodically. Without the extra calorie burn, we can gain weight more easily.
We are just learning about many of the other effects of too much sitting. These are some of the likely harmful results of a sedentary lifestyle.
- Higher levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol.
- Lower levels of "good" HDL cholesterol.
- Higher blood sugar levels, or less insulin sensitivity.
- Higher blood pressure.
These effects can increase your risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Psychological Effects of Sitting All Day
Have you ever sat nearly motionless for a couple of hours and noticed that you feel sleepy and lethargic? It is not your imagination. When you sit for so long, you do not get to benefit from having increased blood flow to your brain the way you do when you are moving. That can make you sleepy, less productive, and less alert.
In addition, sitting for too long, whether at home or at work, can make you more likely to become depressed. It is better to stand up and surround yourself with stimulating coworkers and caring friends and family members than to stay seated and isolated.
What You Can Do
Active breaks can help us all avoid the harmful effects of sitting all day. Take an active break at least once an hour, and remember that an active break can be effective even if it is as short as a minute or two.
- Do squats, calf raises, or arm swings.
- Walk around your office as you talk on the phone.
- Take the stairs to the next floor when you use the bathroom at work.
With a bit of effort, we can reduce the negative effects of sitting all day and become happier and healthier.