There's an area of health and fitness that's grabbing a lot of attention these days, and, for good reason.
Not surprisingly, it has to do with our "sitting times."
Although our modern conveniences have afforded us more time and ease of living, for many, too much of this newfound "free time" is not being spent wisely. Rather than taking up a new activity that includes movement, it is spent sitting and bent over some sort of digital device or lounging in front of the TV.
This behavior is setting off major medical alarms because research reveals that there's a direct relationship between the amount of time spent sitting and the risk of early mortality of any cause. The longer we sit at one span, the more it negatively impacts our health, including our cardiovascular health, and it's impossible to live a long healthy life without a healthy ticker!
In other words, the risk of an early death is directly associated with total sitting times. When sitting time increases, so does the risk of any early death. Our ancestors did not experience this problem. The sheer demands of survival kept them very active and sitting times never posed a health issue, not until recently with the dawn of modern convenience.
The solution to over sitting is obvious. Sitting times must be reduced to a minimum while active times must be increased.
And this applies to everyone - even those who exercise. It seems those who exercise are just as vulnerable to the damaging effects of too much sitting as those that don't.
Although very active during personal times (they will naturally enjoy a high level of energy and are unlikely to turn into couch potatoes), they may have demands at work that tell another story. For many (faithful exercisers or not), modern-day work demands include sitting in front of a back-lit screen hour after hour with barely a break except for lunchtime. Sadly, one hour of honest work at the gym in the morning is erased if the rest of the day is spent sitting.
It might seem that standing at a desk would be the simple solution to combat continuous sitting. However, choosing to stand rather than sit while working has provided limited proof that standing alone is a healthier alternative.
Unfortunately, as we move from childhood to adulthood, our physical and mental functions decline, causing us to lose some of our vitality. Rather than address the reason for this loss, we give in to it as a "condition of aging" becoming more sedentary as a result. This too adds to the negative statistics of prolonged "sitting times" and early death.
Although science has not determined exactly how or why sedentary behavior affects our health in such negative ways, studies prove that those with uninterrupted sedentary bouts of 30 minutes or more experienced the highest risk of death if total sedentary time exceeded 12 ½ hours daily.
On the flip side, study participants who kept their daily sedentary times to a minimum, experienced little to no associated effects on mortality.
Another research study along the same lines that included nearly 8000 participants produced similar results. Those who sat fewer than 30 minutes in one stretch, experienced the lowest risk of early death.
Just telling someone not to sit too much won't work either. That's like telling someone to exercise without giving instruction on what to do. The same way we adhere to guidelines when exercising as to length of times, reps etc. to perform correctly and get optimal results, guidelines are needed for "sitting times" as well to maximise health results.
It seems the maximum of 30 minutes sitting time at one stretch is proving to be the magic number when it comes to living a long, healthy life. So, to truly reduce the health risks due to sitting, guidelines must include standing up and moving/walking for five minutes at a brisk pace for every 30 minutes of consecutive sitting times.
If you find yourself among those locked into a job or any situation that demands sitting
for hours at a time, taking a break every 30 minutes is key. Ideally this mini-break should be at least 2-5 minutes and must include activity of some sort.
Just getting up and walking to the bathroom or water cooler and performing a variety of stretches at the desk before sitting back down works wonders. This simple act is very affective and helpful in not contributing to those early death/mortality figures.
And, because the connection between the brain and body is like a "two-way street," the benefits of regular movement are not confined to our physical health. That means that movement is also empowered to change the brain and improve mental health.
It works as a powerful tool against stress and anxiety, improves and boosts mood and helps reduce and eliminate depressive symptoms. Meditating is known as a great way to quiet the mind, but focused movement (mindful attention) is also one of the best ways to clear the mind of unnecessary chatter allowing the creative juices to flow freely.
"Sitting less and moving more" is the motto of the American Heart Association and one we'd do well to adopt ourselves if living a long, energetic, disease-free life is important to us.
Combining movement with whole foods and other healthy lifestyle habits is the closest thing to discovering the fountain of youth and the best thing of all – it's totally free and at our disposal always!
Truly, "the best things in life are free!"
Carolyn Hansen is the co-owner Anytime Fitness