You may think your habits are keeping you healthy, but you could be overlooking one thing: how much you sit.
I consider myself a pretty healthy guy. I watch my weight (though I’ll admit, at this time of year I’m watching it inch up) and I’m always looking for ways to deal with the mid-life belly bulge (That’s why I just started the 30 Days Sugar Free program). I exercise regularly (Zumba twice a week, water aerobics twice a week, and I walk every day). But I’ve learned about a new disease I didn’t realize I had. It’s called, “The Sitting Disease” and its one that afflicts most of us without our being aware of it.
Erin Michos is an avid runner. She exercises every day, but she found that wasn’t enough to prevent heart disease and stay healthy. Erin is also a Cardiologist and Associate Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “I run an hour a day,” says Dr. Michos, “but I was shocked to see how few steps I took in the other 23 hours.”
That stuck home for me. Like a lot of modern adults I sit around a lot. During the day I write books and articles. I’m on deadline on my 14th book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come. But I’m committed to helping individuals and couples find real, lasting love in their lives every day. So I write articles and blogs to share the best of what I’ve learned over the last 40+ years as a marriage and family counselor. I also counsel men and women in my office in California and by phone with people from around the world (at least by phone I can walk around while we talk, but mostly I spend time sitting and talking.
Of course at night, I sit for a lovely dinner with my wife and we watch some T.V. I usually read books every day and generally I sit while I read.
But I’ve been telling myself, as long as I get some good exercise every day, I’ll be fine. Well Dr. Michos and her colleague at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Roberta Florido, opened my eyes. “Daily exercise is by itself not enough to make up for all those hours sitting at a desk.” What’s more, they offer their expertise as Cardiologists to alert us all to the health risks of a sedentary life style:
“Mounting evidence suggests that those who spend hours with little movement are at higher risk for developing blood clots, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a constellation of other maladies fueled by insufficient physical activity.”
That statement was a real wake-up call for me. I had just been to my doctor for my regular health check-up. I was pleased to hear that I was generally healthy, but surprised when she told me the not-so-good news. “Your hemoglobin A1c, which is a long term marker for elevated blood sugars, indicates that you are early prediabetic.” Me, pre-diabetic, how is that possible? I don’t eat much sugar (at least I didn’t think I did, until I tracked how much hidden sugar there was in my diet).
But could sitting a lot, even if I exercise regularly, really be a health risk? Dr. Michos and Florido definitely think it is. In an article titled, “Sitting Disease: Moving Your Way to a Healthier Heart,” they spell out the latest research findings.
“Research shows that the bodies of sedentary people are not as good at breaking down blood sugar and cholesterol, chief culprits in diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. People who spend more time sitting have higher levels of blood sugar and disease-fueling fats called triglycerides, as well as lower levels of heart-protective HDL cholesterol, or ‘good’ cholesterol. Sitting for too long has also been shown to increase the amount of calcium and fatty buildup inside the heart’s arteries – a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes.”
A newly published review of 47 studies reveals that regardless of exercise, people who spend more time inactive had notably higher risk not only for diabetes and heart disease but also for cancer. They were also more likely to die prematurely. And although more physically active people fared better overall, they were far from immune to the negative effects of sedentary behavior.
They conclude with a simple positive statement that gave me my marching orders. “Adding two minutes of light activity to every hour you spend sitting can lower your risk of dying by one-third, according to a 2015 study in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.”
Hey, I’m on it. If I add two minutes of light activity to every hour I spend sitting, I can lower my risk of dying by 33%.
Here are some of the doctors’ simple suggestions that I plan to put into practice right away:
Count your steps. Monitoring how many steps you take can be a great motivator to get up and move. You don’t need a fancy activity tracker with a gazillion functions. A simple pedometer will do. Aim for at least 5,000 steps daily, although 10,000 or more is ideal.
Sit less, move often. Here’s the really good news – you don’t have to replace sitting with more vigorous exercise. Research shows that light to moderate activity, such as a leisurely stroll, gardening or housework, boosts the value of your health “capital.”
Don’t give up on exercise. While getting at least 30 minutes of vigorous activity five times a week is still vital for your health, your needn’t get obsessed with it. Light activity counts too so long as you do it often during the day, every day.
The 20-8-2 rule. Some experts recommend that for every 20 minutes of sitting at home or at work, you should stand for eight minutes and move for two minutes.
Get pinged into moving. Set your watch or alarm to remind you to stand up, stretch and take a short walk for a few minutes every hour. If that’s impossible, consider adding a 15-minute walk to your morning, lunch break and evening.
Work moving. Hold “walking meetings” with a colleague instead of sitting in someone’s office.
I look forward to hearing from you. Are you dealing with the “sitting disease?” Try out some of these suggestions and add your own. If you’d like to learn more about my health affirming programs and practices, please come visit me at www.MenAlive.com.
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