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Is Sitting The New Smoking?

Sitting can kill you! And no, this isn’t an early April Fools’ Day joke. That’s right, I said it…sitting. Especially sitting for long periods of time. While physical activity (i.e. exercise) is good, it appears that physical inactivity is dangerous. Very dangerous! Let’s take a look at the emerging data.

A paper published in Diabetes Care in 2008 reported that: Frequent breaks in sedentary activity may explain lower health risk related to waist circumference, body mass index (BMI), triglyceride levels, and 2-hour plasma glucose levels. As you may know, those risk factors, along with triglyceride and HDL levels, define the metabolic syndrome which dramatically increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and probably Alzheimer’s disease.

A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2012 concluded that 30 minutes of physical activity is as protective an exposure as 10 hours of sitting is a harmful one.

Also in 2012, a paper in the British Journal of Sports Medicine indicated that one hour of sitting is the equivalent of smoking two cigarettes.

Holy smokes! Think about that…especially if you have a desk job where you are paid to sit and stare at a screen, type on a keyboard, and talk on the phone all day.

While the publications I’m referring to may seem a little dated…the information is still as true today as it was then.

According to Professor David W. Dunston, a researcher associated with the Australian Obesity, Diabetes and Lifestyle study, the most striking feature of prolonged sitting is the absence of skeletal muscle contractions, particularly in the large muscles of the legs (think quads, hamstrings, and calf muscles).

What can be done? Simple — stand up…on a regular basis. Just the simple act of getting out of your chair every 30 to 60 minutes has tremendous benefit. If you’re willing to do some toe-raisers, desk push-ups, or chair squats, well, all the better! A short walk around the office works wonders as well. It doesn’t have to be much or be long. Just one minute every hour or so is all it takes.

Using the alarm on your smart phone can serve as a reminder (i.e. a trigger). ACAP Health offers a sophisticated, yet simple, software program to deliver customized anti-sitting programs into the workplace. Using the concept of gamification, this solution makes breaking up sedentary behavior easy and fun (“fun” is good…right?!). Add in a simple incentive or two and some social engagement, and you would be amazed how easy it is to change the behavior of desk-bound employees. If you have any questions about the program, let me know!

Remember, health is mostly a function of habits. Unhealthy habits, like prolonged bouts of sitting, over time are extremely damaging. It makes sense to pay attention to the science and intentionally develop ways to put your body in position to function at its peak for years to come.

Does your company have a wellness program in place that encourages movement throughout the day? What do you do to ensure you’re not in your desk chair all day long? Let me know…I’d love to hear about it!

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