A new review of all credible research related to sedentary (sitting) behavior has produced some both alarming and hopeful news. Our sedentary behavior is every bit as bad and worse for our health than we thought.
According to the publication in Lancet, (Ekelund, et al, 2016), “High levels of moderate intensity physical activity (i.e., about 60–75 min per day) seem to eliminate the increased risk of death associated with high sitting time. These results provide further evidence on the benefits of physical activity, particularly in societies where increasing numbers of people have to sit for long hours for work and may also inform future public health recommendations.”
Our “not moving” creates poorer heart health and increases risk of cancer, diabetes and more. But just moving and exercising at a moderate level (like brisk walking) 30-60 minutes each day can cancel out many of the bad effects produced by our lives of sitting. This is really great news for those of us in office jobs, or who drive a truck for a living.
According to another study recently published by The Lancet, the health costs of sedentary behavior amounted to $53.8 billion worldwide in 2013. This huge cost has inspired public health officials, policy makers, physicians and academics to encourage people to exercise more often, in whatever way they can.
With his famous Youtube video called 23 ½ hours, Dr. Evans of the University of Toronto made the notion of finding just 30 minutes for exercise out of our daily 24 hours, popular. But even carving out 30 minutes, or keeping momentum for that long after a long day of work, can be challenging. I have a habit of setting my exercise goals too high, or too long. When I don’t make the time in my schedule to go to the gym, or go for a long run, I’m disappointed with myself and end up not working out at all. If I can’t work out when, where and for the length of time I had envisioned, I just throw in the towel for that day. This is really not helpful to my health.
When I learned that those 30 minutes can be broken into 10 minute intervals and they still count toward the 30 (or 60) minute goal — that was an epiphany! This means if I can exercise (walk, jog, dance, climb stairs, do yoga) for just 10 minutes, 3 times during that day, or 15 minutes twice a day, the benefits are the same as a half hour straight of exercise. I’m a pretty busy person by most people’s standards — demanding full-time job, mom of three active kids, wife, daughter, volunteer, etc. but if I’m honest with myself, I can squeeze 10 or 15 minutes into my day a couple of times. It might mean I disengage from the computer/screen a few minutes earlier, take time during lunch at work, wake up a just a little bit earlier in the morning or go to sleep a few minutes later at night, but it is doable, even for the busiest people.
I asked some busy folks I know to share how they fit physical activity into their crowded days. Here are some simple examples to inspire us all:
Laura: At work we started the mile club. We gather 2 times a day in a large conference room and walk (some of us dance) to music for 15 minutes at lunchtime and late afternoon. Sometimes we don’t all make it both times, but even just once means half of my exercise is done for the day by the time I get home from work. It is great to do this with my co-workers who have fun and laugh and de-stress. It makes our working relationships better too. It’s the easiest thing to do and now we have all come to expect it. It forces us away from our desks for just a short break and our minds are clear and ready to be more productive when we return to our tasks.
Melony: I walk my dog twice a day. In the morning, I get up just a little bit earlier than my kids and take the dog on a 1-2 mile walk. It is a brisk walk and sometimes even a jog because my dog is pretty rambunctious! Many times this is the only exercise I get, but 10-15 minutes here and there adds up.
Clara: Years ago I bought a beginners yoga DVD that has an 18 minute quick workout. I put that on in the morning while my kids are eating breakfast. If I don’t finish the 18 minutes, I pause it and come back to it in the evening before I go to bed. I also try to run up and down the stairs at work for 10 minutes during my lunch break. Between the two I usually fit in 30 minutes. It has been a great way to manage my stress.
Nick: My young daughter loves to ride her bike so when I get home from work it is our little routine. She rides and I jog behind her — even just a few times around the block adds up to 10, 15 minutes and it is a great way to de-stress after a day a work and to reconnect with my daughter.
Alba: My four kids are so busy with sports and band that I am always waiting in the car for them to finish their activities. I decided it was wasted time so now I keep a jump rope in my car. I jump rope next to my car in the parking lot for as long as I can — usually 10 minutes or so. It may look funny but most days it is the only way I can fit in my 30 minutes a day of exercise.
It’s great if you are able to go to the gym for an hour every day, or run miles each day to train for a marathon, but many of us we need to tone down our expectations for “working out” and carve out the space in our schedules for 10 minute activity breaks several times a day. While 60 minutes is ideal, even 30 minutes of physical activity a day will improve our health. The key is to move when we can and to think of it as “limiting sitting” time vs. making “workout” time. Take opportunities to go up and down stairs, walk the dog, do jumping jacks, dance, walk, move with purpose when you can!
As Evans says, ask yourself the question, “Can you limit your sitting and sleeping time just 23 ½ hours a day?” You can because Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!)
Source: Ekelund U, Steene-Johannessen J, Brown W, et al. Does Physical Activity Attenuate, Or Even Eliminate, The Detrimental Association Of Sitting Time With Mortality? A Harmonised Meta-Analysis Of Data From More Than 1 million Men And Women. The Lancet. 2016.