Mounting research suggests that sitting at a desk for hours on end negatively affects your health and prematurely shortens your lifespan. This holds true even if you exercise regularly. While regular exercise is still important for good health, prolonged sitting is an independent risk factor for poor health that is often ignored. Your metabolism is continuously attuned to your level of physical activity. Prolonged sitting raises blood glucose, insulin and triglyceride levels, all of which promotes inflammation and wreaks havoc throughout your body. As a neurologist-recently-turned-writer who spends hours at the computer, I found this news very discouraging for both myself and my patients. That is, until I read a new study.
Promising new research suggests that interrupting prolonged sitting with just two minutes of activity can measurably improve your metabolism. Australian researchers monitored blood glucose and insulin levels in a group of adults over a five-hour period on separate days. On one study day, participants remained seated throughout the five-hour period. On another day, sitting was interrupted with two-minute, light-intensity walks every 20 minutes. Average glucose and insulin levels were significantly lower (about 25 percent) during the light activity day compared with the completely sedentary day. In other words, brief periods of activity lower blood sugar and insulin levels and appear to combat the negative effects of prolonged sitting.
Here are five easy ways to incorporate more activity into your workday.
Instead of sitting at your desk, stand up during phone calls. Spending more time on your feet will jumpstart your metabolism. While you stand, be aware of your posture. Maintaining good posture helps strengthen your core and also promotes self-confidence and positive thinking. In addition, your voice will naturally sound more energetic while standing -- a real plus for making a good impression. For more of a challenge, pace back and forth or take a mini-stroll around the room.
Stairs are simply the best piece of workout equipment your workplace has to offer. Every opportunity you have, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Why not use the restrooms or water cooler on a different floor to give your metabolism an extra boost? For an added kick, try taking the stairs two at a time.
Don't have time to go to the gym on your lunch break but still want to add a little tone to your muscles? Try doing a couple sets of wall-sits and wall pushups between meetings. When I used to log long hours on call at the hospital and didn't have time to hit the gym, I would do sets of wall-sits in my on-call room and wall pushups in the ladies' room. Here's how (but as always, check with your doctor first): Wall-Sits: Stand with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart and two feet from the wall. Slowly slide your back down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Your knees should be over your ankles. Keeping your back flat against the wall, hold for 10-60 seconds, rest and repeat. Over time, aim to increase your hold time and repetitions. Wall Pushups: Stand facing a wall and extend your arms in front of you. Lean forward slightly and place your palms against the surface, shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows until your nose nearly touches the wall. Push back out to start and repeat Increasing the number of repetitions and the distance between yourself and the wall will make it more challenging.
Studies show that spending time outdoors is associated with improved mental well-being, increased energy and decreased tension and depression. If the weather is not cooperating, make an effort to switch up the scenery for lunch. The idea is to spend less time behind your desk and move to new surroundings. Venturing out to new destinations will not only rev your metabolism, it's a fun way to stimulate your brain and your taste buds.
During my medical training, I regularly worked 36-hour shifts at the hospital and missed my energizing dance classes. To solve this dilemma, during my nights on call, I would strap on ankle weights under my scrubs. In this way, I was able to get in a fabulous workout at work! While ankle weights might not be suitable every day, why not make them part of your casual Friday outfit? Or keep them in your office and wear them when you have some private time. Strapping them on your wrists is also a great way to tone your arms.
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1: Dunstan DW, Kingwell BA, Larsen R, Healy GN, Cerin E, Hamilton MT, Shaw JE,Bertovic DA, Zimmet PZ, Salmon J, Owen N. Breaking up prolonged sitting reduces postprandial glucose and insulin responses. Diabetes Care. 2012 May;35(5):976-83.
2: van der Ploeg HP, Chey T, Korda RJ, Banks E, Bauman A. Sitting time and
all-cause mortality risk in 222 497 Australian adults. Arch Intern Med. 2012 Mar 26;172(6):494-500.
3: Thompson Coon J, Boddy K, Stein K, Whear R, Barton J, Depledge MH. Does
participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Environ Sci Technol. 2011 Mar 1;45(5):1761-72.
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