Conventional wisdom tells us that we don't move enough, but could it be that we sit too much? Is it the lack of time spent being active or the excess time spent being inactive? It's more than likely a combination of the two, but research over the last six months makes a case for reducing our sitting time as much as we're increasing our movement time.
Research from Kansas State University in 2013 concluded that those who sit four hours or more each day are at a significantly higher risk of developing cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. The interesting takeaway was that four hours of sitting wasn't necessarily the cutoff for an increased risk. The likelihood of developing a degenerative disease continued to increase on a consistent curve from six to eight hours, and eight hours and beyond.
In February of this year, Northwestern University found that if you're over 60 years of age, every additional hour spent sitting doubles your risk of becoming disabled. Surprisingly, the researchers found that any additional exercise had no impact on the disability risk. Suggesting that it's not necessarily a question of active vs. inactive, but rather total time spent sitting.
One could argue that those who sit all day have poor eating and lifestyle habits (e.g., sleep). This is definitely understandable for those on the road and working night shifts, like truck drivers or police officers, and regrettably characteristic of many occupations that revolve around computers. However, it was clearly mentioned in the KSU study that the probability of chronic disease remained high regardless of body mass index. Meaning that the increased risk is not because of the specific lifestyle habits or other outside factors of the individual, but rather the actual practice of sitting. Perhaps the lead researcher from KSU, Richard Rosenkranz, says it best:
We know that with very high confidence that more physically active people do better with regard to chronic disease compared with less physically active people, but we should also be looking at reducing sitting.
We already know you can't out-exercise a crappy diet, and it appears you can't out-exercise a crappy desk job either. The key is avoiding chronic periods of sitting, as was outlined in a 2013 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Not only did Australian researchers find a 39 percent improvement in glucose and a 26 percent decrease in insulin from activity breaks throughout the day, but those who regularly stood up and moved around frequently were better off than those taking part in 30 minutes of exercise per day -- by 37 and 18 percent!
Fortunately, we can all make an effort to increase our standing or walking outside of the hours we're expected to sit. This could be as easy as walking around while we're on the phone, taking the stairs, parking further away from the entrance on purpose, walking to a co-worker/employees desk instead of emailing them, or doing a lap of the office every few hours.
Stay Lean (and stand up)!
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