Get Up--Your Life Depends on It

You may catch yourself regularly watching TV, being hooked on your new favorite Netflix series, or surfing the internet on your laptop or phone for lengthy amounts of time. You may also be working at a desk for eight hours, five days a week. What do all of these activities have in common? Sitting. Sitting for long periods of time seems easy to do these days without much thought. Health effects from this trend are pouring out from studies left and right.

Sitting time has been linked to a lot of health conditions. The more obvious effects are higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, poor leg circulation, and bad cholesterol. Less obvious connections are worse mental health, an over productive pancreas leading to diabetes, colon cancer, and also physical defects such as mushy abs, tight hips, soft bones, and an inflexible spine.

Interestingly, it is not just tough physical activity like moderate exercise that our bodies’ need to be healthy. Light-intensity activity, such as walking, is just as important. In a study done at the School of Medicine at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, trading just two minutes of sitting for two minutes of light-intensity activity every hour lowered the risk of early death by a stunning 33 percent.

So you should be less hungry when you sit for long periods of time, right? Unfortunately, this is not true. According to Barry Braun, PhD, the director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, ''going from active to sitting doesn't lower your appetite or your energy intake.” Surprisingly, he finds that sitting may cause over eating, leading to weight gain. The body has a natural feedback system when calories are being burned. This tells the brain how much food should be eaten to replace the burned energy. There is no such hunger system for how few calories to eat when the body is sitting and not using energy up.

Here are some tips and tricks to add to your day to fight the sitting apocalypse:

  • Give yourself reminders to get moving. At home, try using TV commercials as a hint to get up and walk around. At work, use a smaller coffee cup or fill up your water bottle with lesser amounts so you go for more refills.
  • Use a pedometer to track how many steps you get in each day. The common suggestion is right around 10,000 steps per day.
  • Take advantage of the nice weather and find fun places to walk or hike around on the weekends. The South pier, Kohler-Andrae State Park, and Maywood are just a few examples of beautiful places right in our own backyard!

The main message from the current studies involved with sitting is to get in the habit of reducing sitting time by breaking it up. On top of the recommended 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity each week, it is important to squeeze in some light physical activity throughout the day. Small changes make big impacts – get up and get moving!

-Lauren Smith is an AHEC Intern for the Division of Public Health.