HEAVY SITTERS BEWARE
By Linda J. Williams, Cuyahoga Falls Parks and Recreation, Akron LIVING WELL Magazine
Would everyone please rise? Your couch and chair may be killing you.
A leading researcher on inactivity physiology was recently quoted as saying, “Sitting is hazardous. It’s dangerous. He even calls sitting the “new smoking.”
Research has shown that “heavy sitters” are at greater risk of heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, and possible early death. A study in the UK recently revealed that four plus hours in front of a television or computer doubles the risk of heart disease in older adults. Here’s what’s even worse: Other new studies are showing that those who consider themselves “active couch potatoes,” who routinely participate in exercise but spend the rest of their day sitting, may even be at risk of life threatening diseases.
When you think about it: we eat, work, play, shop and sleep, all without even taking a step. Whether at work or home, we can do it all while sitting. Baby Boomers, no doubt, remember a different scenario. We walked to school and performed more physical chores like raking leaves, washing dishes, shoveling snow and hanging the laundry out to dry. Modern invention and technology have nearly made these activities a thing of the past, and today with personal computers and a television in practically every room of the house, we don’t often leave our comfy chair. It’s a fact that one of the most sedentary groups in the U.S. are those over the age of 65, and greater than four in 10 are getting no physical activity whatsoever.
Another study, this one performed in Australia, revealed that physically active women who spent a good amount of time watching television had larger waist circumferences and were more predisposed to developing metabolic syndrome, a combination of disorders that, when occuring together, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. A study of University of South Carolina middle-aged men had equally startling results. Men who sat more than 23 hours a week either driving or sitting watching television were at a far greater risk of cardiovascular disease than those who sat less than 11 hours.
Researchers say that when we sit, our body goes into storage mode and it simply doesn’t work as effectively as it does while active. An enzyme that vacuums away harmful fat from the bloodstream works best when the body is upright. Standing up not only burns calories, but can also fend off heart disease and help produce the good type of cholesterol.
Oftentimes when people first retire, their physical activity increases, but that activity soon declines. Researchers expect to have new recommendations soon as to just how much sitting is deemed safe. Until then, there are things you can do that involve less “sit-down time.” Get up and take a walk, stand and stretch and remember to place regularly used items like the cell phone, telephone, remote control, or other frequently used gadgets across the room, that way you have to physically get up to use them. Taking a break by standing up and walking around is also good for your heart. Other good advice is to reduce overall sedentary time or simply cut short prolonged sitting episodes.
The bottom line? It’s not only about eating smart and getting the proper exercise to achieve good health. Our bodies were not built to be sitting stationary. They were built to stand, to move and to walk, and we need to do just that.
Linda J. Williams is the marketing coordinator for Cuyahoga Falls Parks and Recreation. To learn more about the Center for Functional Fitness and Forever Young, a new, unique fitness program designed exclusively for Baby Boomers, contact Karyn Petty, ACSM, ACE Health/Fitness Instructor at 330-971-8078.