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Why Sitting is Killing Us Plus 8 Tips to Fight Back

December 8, 2014

It’s hard to believe that something as seemingly benign as watching a movie or driving to work could pose serious health consequences, but that’s the growing concern among some researchers who say our sedentary culture is shortening our lives.

“Sitting is the new smoking” is the catchphrase for this new anti-inactivity movement, and while it sounds extreme, Dr. James Levine, the physician, author and obesity expert credited with coining it, is not mincing words. In an interview with the L.A. Times [“interview with the L.A. Times” should link to: http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-get-up-20140731-story.html] earlier this year, Levine said:

“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”

Sure, it’s generally understood by now that sitting around isn’t the route to glowing health, but for years, the advice for a healthy life was pretty much to eat well and exercise for 30 minutes several times a week. What new research is finding, however, is that banking workouts doesn’t negate our long stretches of inactivity the rest of the day. As Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, told the New York Times in 2011 [“told the New York Times” should link to: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17sitting-t.html?_r=0], “Exercise is not a perfect antidote for sitting.”

According to JustStand.org [link to http://www.juststand.org%5D, we sit about 7.7 hours a day — though some results suggest that number might be as high as 15 hours a day. That level of inactivity is linked to a higher risk for many types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, and more — even among “active” individuals. When you combine our desk-chair-centric work culture with yet more seated activities throughout the day — driving, watching TV, playing video games, socializing at restaurants or bars — that time on our tushes adds up quickly.

So how do we combat all the inactivity built into our lives? Researchers suggest we can start by making changes that incorporate movement naturally throughout the day, as opposed to simply relegating activity to workouts. Start by using the Sitting Time Calculator from JustStand.org [link “sitting time calculator” to: http://www.juststand.org/tabid/866/language/en-US/default.aspx] to determine the approximate number of hours you sit each day, then follow the tips below:

Get a standing or treadmill desk. If the pre-made desks available online are beyond your budget, just hack it; a simple Google search turns up lots of ideas for DIY standing desks.

Incorporate more movement into your work day. Stand when you take calls, walk to speak with a coworker instead of sending her an email, take a walk on your lunch break, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator, and park at a distance to allow for a longer walk to the office. If you can bike or walk to work, even better.

Challenge your co-workers to join you. Suggest having “standing” meetings, especially if the meeting will be brief anyway. If you need to meet one-on-one with a co-worker, brainstorm during a walk together rather than over the conference table.

Reconsider the coffee date. Socializing often involves sitting (at bars, restaurants, coffee shops, the movie theater), so get creative when going out on dates or meeting up with friends. Ask your friend or partner to join you for a hike, bike ride, or, depending on the season, a snowshoe or cross-country ski; or get that coffee to go and just take a walk together.

Set a movement timer. Make sure you’re standing up or moving around for every half hour of sitting. Set a reminder alert on your phone or computer.

Track your steps. It doesn’t matter if you use an old-fashioned pedometer, your iPhone’s step counter, or a high-tech fitness tracker — keeping a record of your movement throughout the day is a great way to stay accountable. Challenge a friend or family member to see who can get the most steps in one day.

Stand up or move around during TV commercials. Better yet, stretch or exercise while watching TV. If you’re watching a movie, pause halfway for a movement intermission. If you’re gaming, stand up between sessions and reloads, or just set that timer again for every 30 minutes.

Fight inactivity when you travel. Long trips can add up to a lot sitting. If you’re traveling by plane, train, or bus, use your time waiting in the airport or station to walk around rather than sit and read (there’s plenty of time to do that on the ride, anyway). When traveling by car, be sure to make plenty of pit stops — even if your car doesn’t need to gas up yet, your body still needs to stretch and move.

The bottom line when it comes to the dangers of sitting? Be mindful of how often you do it. Our computer-based lives likely won’t be changing anytime soon, but by simply getting up and moving more throughout the day, you’ll be taking a stand for your health.

Emily Bingham is a freelance contributor. [link Emily Bingham to http://emilyebingham.com/%5D

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