Sitting Too Much is as Bad as Smoking

  • Topic Info:Diabetes, risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease are all health risks associated with smoking, but surprising new evidence is finding that sitting can be just as bad for you, causing the same complications.

    It’s About Prevention, Not Treatment
    The health risks of sitting too much mostly affect those with desk jobs. Even if you go to the gym in the morning, the amount of sitting you do at work, followed by sitting in front of the TV at home, can outdo that hour of physical activity. In an effort to combat this, wild products are coming out on the market, including treadmill desks and strangely shaped chairs.

    Dr. Jordan Metzl, a renowned sports medicine physician, believes the current medical system is partially responsible for rising inactivity levels. In Dr. Metzl’s experience, the worlds of medicine and fitness are usually encased in their own private entities, but “the best case is interfacing the two, where doctors prescribe exercises, and fitness professionals learn how to work in conjunction with doctors.” Where the current concept of medicine focuses on the treatment of disease, a better system would instead focus on prevention.

    The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) seems to agree; the organization spearheaded an initiative called Exercise is Medicine that focuses on encouraging physicians and healthcare providers to include physical activity in treatment plans. According to their website, Exercise is Medicine (EIM) “is committed to the belief that physical activity is integral in the prevention and treatments of diseases and should be regularly assessed and ‘treated’ as part of all medical care.”

    Fight Inactivity Throughout the Day
    Luckily, inactivity is an easy habit to change. Dr. Metzl rightfully claims that exercise is the most widely available medicine, and anyone can do it whether rich, poor, old, young, fit, or unfit. There are a few other things Dr. Metzl recommends doing each day.

    First, you should try to increase your NEAT profile before going into work each morning. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy that’s expended in your everyday life, excluding sleeping, eating, and intense exercise. Some ways you can increase your NEAT profile is by parking farther away, adopting a dog that you’ll take on regular walks, and moving as much as possible every day. Of course, it may be more difficult to improve NEAT depending on your geographical location. Someone living in New York City, for example, may walk everywhere to work. On the other hand, someone living in Indianapolis may have a long drive to work, and things may not be so close together. It’s this second group of people that really need to work hard on improving NEAT.

    Secondly, exercise each morning before work and after work if you can. One of Dr. Metzl’s favorite exercises is the plank, where you hold your body up and focus on the core. You can either drop the left or right side down, or keep it straight down the middle. Other core exercises will also help you stay limber, as will regular stretches.

    Building on the previous idea, you can stretch out the problem areas at work to prevent fatigue. With a desk job, the most common sources of pain are the neck and upper shoulder area, wrists and forearms, and the lower back. Some companies encourage standing desks, but most people simply do not have that luxury. Instead, try to adjust the height of the chair, and pay attention to how your terminal is set up. If you find yourself looking down or to the side in order to view the monitor, consider moving it someplace closer to eye level. Take frequent, small breaks (feel free to use a timer) and use this opportunity to stretch out your back and shoulders.
  • Host: Melanie Cole, MS