Sitting is the New Cancer
Have you seen the headlines? Sitting has been identified as one of the more important risks to American’s health. Congratulations to everyone that stopped smoking, and now we have to tackle inactivity. Sitting for large amounts of time increases our risk for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, depression, and even certain cancers.
Walking – The Surgeon General recommends 30 minutes of moderately-intense physical activity every day. That’s completing a mile in a 15 to 20 minute per mile pace, or the pace that allows you to hold a conversation but be slightly out of breath. This doesn’t have to be completed in one 30-minute session. It can be broken up into three 10 minute walks. Consider taking a lap or two in the hallways at work during a lull in your day.
Step-counting – A popular goal recently is to aim for 10,000 steps per day. A person with a desk job usually only nets about 3,000 steps per day to put that in perspective. Nearly everyone has a smart phone these days and can find an app to keep track of their steps. There are also popular pedometer/fitness bands that count steps, but again, these aren’t necessary to get started. Ease into it, consider adding about 500 steps a day until you reach a comfortable goal. Make it creative. Park a little farther away in the parking lot; take a walk to your co-worker’s desk instead of sending an email.
Standing desks? – Sitting is actually its own problem, beyond just “not walking.” After six hours of sitting, one study showed the vasculature function in one of the leg’s main arteries was reduced by more than 50%, but was restored after 10 minutes of walking. But too much standing increases risk of varicose veins and back and foot problems among others. An analysis of 20 studies failed to find good evidence that standing at a work desk is better than sitting. (Sorry Andre!) The key is breaking up your activity throughout the day.
Body-weight exercises: Body-weight exercises such as push-ups, lunges, and squats are very effective in building muscle and improving core strength. They require no equipment, can be done virtually anywhere, and they are free! Start slowly and easily. Try doing push-ups against a wall or desk, or knee pushups on the ground if traditional push-ups are too hard. Aim for two or three sets of 8 to 12 reps. This could be completed in 10 minutes per day.
Weight Lifting – It takes just two weeks of physical inactivity for those who are physically fit to lose 25 – 30% of their muscle strength. Have you ever been in a cast for 6 weeks? When starting to use weights, choose a weight that you can fairly easily move 8 times but would struggle to lift more than 12 times. Focus on good form, slowly raising the weight to a count of 3 and lowering it to a count of 3, not hurriedly jerking a weight up and down. Aim to do two or three sets of 8 to 12 reps. Ideally work in opposing muscle groups, such as biceps with triceps. Consider having an “arm day”, and then the next day focusing on a different area “leg day”, so that these groups of muscles can rest and heal on non-exercise days.
Our QM department gives the Sworkit app two thumbs up. This is free, available for most popular brands of phones, and leads you through a short workout of your choice (Strength, Cardio, Yoga, and Stretching for example) for as little as 5 minutes. Give it a try!
It’s easier than you think to hurt yourself in the name of health, so when beginning an exercise plan, start slowly and build up slowly!
Kerri Halfant, MD