Ask Dr. Gary: I like to move it, move it

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Starting this week, I'm going to mix it up a bit, moving beyond questions and answers to share with readers health studies I think are too interesting not to share. This one is about the health benefits of even very minimal activity. Being naturally lazy, I like this one because it supports the idea that even just standing up is a form of exercise.

The study involved 222,000 Australians aged 45 and older and was published last month in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Participants were surveyed and followed over four years, and the data was analysed and compared to public death records to calculate the health effects of being sedentary.

Perhaps not too surprisingly, those who spent 11 hours or more a day sitting had much higher rates of death than those who spent fewer than four hours a day on their bums. Forty per cent higher, in fact, in just the ensuing three years. What interested me most was that this huge death "tax" on sedentary people was completely regardless of how much they weighed, how intensely they exercised when they did exercise, how old they were, and even whether or not they had diabetes or heart disease. Across all groups, those who sat more died earlier.

Eleven hours of sitting a day may seem extreme but, really, it's not.

The average Kiwi adult sits for most of their work day, their commute, their meals and their diversion: we watch an average 2.8 hours of television every day! Combine that with two-thirds of us being overweight or obese, and you've got a problem. Our bodies just weren't made for this type of abuse.

The study cannot show cause-and-effect, just an association between being sedentary and dying prematurely.

The association is, nonetheless, strong and plausible. It fits with other studies linking inactivity to ill health. The body really is a "use-it-or-lose-it" structure, and the first step in keeping it healthy is to keep moving.

For an excellent YouTube clip on the benefits of "not sitting", watch Dr Mike Evans' 23 hours: what's the single best thing we can do for health? And thanks to Dr J for sharing it.

- Hamilton News

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