If there is one thing the human body is designed and meant to do is to move. Yet how many of us spend a good chunk of our day sitting and moving very little? Physical inactivity or lack of movement can literally be ruining your health. When we spend inordinate amounts of time sitting at our jobs, watching TV, spending time on the computer or have long car commutes, it all adds up to take a toll at some point on our health and well-being.
Dr. David Samadi, chairman of urology and chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, reemphasized the hazards of physical inactivity by saying, “One of the biggest issues facing many people today is a sedentary lifestyle. Too many people are often sitting down whether it be for their office job, driving, or simply by watching too much television.”
Health risks associated with inactivity
The more inactive we are throughout the day, the greater the risk to your health for disease and an early death. In fact, a study in 2012 published in The Lancet stated that the impact of physical inactivity was comparable to that of cigarette smoking. Whether that is completely true or not, physical inactivity is associated with many hazards to our health which Dr. Samadi reiterated, “Prolonged sitting can lead to numerous health issues.” Here are some ways physical inactivity can hurt your health:
• The less active and physically fit you are, the greater the risk of developing hypertension.
• When we move infrequently, we are more likely to develop coronary heart disease.
• Our rates of anxiety and depression go up the less we move.
• Certain cancers may be increased due to lack of physical activity.
• Being physically inactive increases the likelihood of weight gain leading to obesity.
• Physical inactivity increases the chance of developing type 2 diabetes. Dr. Samadi stated, “Physical inactivity increases the risk of type 2 diabetes by 90%.”
How active do we need to be
What is known is that when we are physically active, the healthier and less likely we are to develop chronic diseases than people who are not physically active. Any activity we can fit into our day, helps. As far as how much, here are the current guidelines from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion:
• Do aerobic activity choosing one of the following to fit your current level of ability:
– 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) each week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (such as brisk walking or tennis).
– 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) each week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (such as jogging or swimming laps).
– 300 minutes (5 hours) each week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity.
– 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) each week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.
• Do muscle strengthening exercises such as lifting weights or using resistance bands involving all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
“Research says that even if we exercise, a sedentary lifestyle can still kill us prematurely by increasing our chances of disease,” said Dr. Samadi. “Other health hazards of prolonged sitting include an increased risk for cancer, heart disease, bad backs, muscle degeneration, and poor leg circulation.”
Ideas on becoming more physically active
First of all, get up and move at least 2-5 minutes each hour during the day. If you have a desk job, set a timer to remind you to take a break and at least stretch and walk around so your body is not in an inactive position for long lengths of time. Doing this not only keeps your body from stiffening up but gives your mind a break from your work. Here are some other ideas to do throughout the day to keep active:
• Take the stairs whenever possible. This helps increase heartrate and strengthens the legs.
• Park as far from a building as you can to get in more walking.
• Gardening and yardwork are all physically taxing and use a range of muscle groups.
• Wear a pedometer. Aim for at least 10,000 steps a day but ease into that number if just starting out.
• If feasible, ride your bike to work.
• Have walking meetings instead of sitting in a conference room.
• Go for a daily brisk walk after lunch or an evening walk after dinner – or both.
• Walk around or do stretching movements when talking on the phone.
• Turn off the TV, get away from the computer and go outside to play with your kids or the dog.
• Each time a commercial comes on, stand up and walk around.
• Stretch each day – this helps prevent muscle cramps, alleviates back pain and reduces stress.
• For people with a physical disability – wheelchair bound, bad back or knees – it is still important to keep moving. There are specific exercises for people with disabilities that will help you maintain a healthy body and get in movement to keep you strong each day. Work with a physical therapist or a local YMCA for ideas on achieving fitness.
Get up and move
“Most people sit 7-9 hours a day, especially due to the cubicle lifestyle that has become so common in the workforce,” stated Dr. Samadi. “Fortunately, this can be reversed. By getting more physical activity, you can lower your risk of certain diseases including cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Being more active will also increase insulin sensitivity, reduce body fat, inflammation, metabolic hormones and sex steroid hormones.”
And with that being said, the name of the game is to get up and move. You only have one body and sitting around too much can be a real game changer that can take you in the wrong directions.