Tag Archives: sitting

12 Days of Fitness 2014: Day 10 – Sitting Worse Than Previously Thought

(This is Part 10 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

seating-for-longIt isn’t exactly rocket science but we know that a sedentary lifestyle is not that conducive to a healthy lifestyle. A few years ago more research was coming out proving that theory to not only be true but to have more costly effects on our health. In present day 2014, more and more research has come forth indicating that not only is sitting detrimental to our health but that the amount of exercise one does may not even be enough to offset the negative effects of sitting. Kind of makes you want to get up and get your ass moving!

Sat Statistics

It is estimated that the average American sits 9.3 hours a day. A Nielsen company reports that the average American watches five hours of television during that same day, while other studies show that most Americans spend additional hours driving, internet surfing, texting, app game playing, etc. Those who live a sedentary lifestyle have often been referred to as couch potatoes. But for those that stay reasonably fit and active (3-5 days per week, approx. an hour each time) but still spend a considerable amount of their day sitting have been labeled by Nancy Clark, director of nutrition services at SportsMedicine Associates as “sedentary athletes”. Does that mean that you need to be active 24/7/365? No, but thinking that just because you exercise, whatever frequency that may be, warrants lots of “down time” could be like spinning wheels.

Compelling Research

A study by Australian researchers led by Dr. Geraldine Healy, research fellow at the Heart and Diabetes Institute at the University of Queensland, determined that longer than average bouts of sitting and lying down (independent of the total per diem veg-out time) are associated with a higher percentage of body fat, in women—although, curiously, not men. In the researchers’ words, “These findings provide preliminary evidence on the potential importance for human health of avoiding prolonged periods of being sedentary, independent of physical activity. [They] support findings from studies of the metabolic consequences of television viewing time.” Additional studies conducted by Healy’s team, Dr. David Levine and his fellow Mayo Clinic researchers, plus others, all come to the same conclusion, regardless of gender. Low levels of non-exercise activity thermogenesis (what Levine calls “NEAT”), or how much energy is burned from all physical activities “other than volitional sporting-like exercise” such as playing with kids, manual labor and dancing—are the source of America’s obesity epidemic. Other studies by Healy have shown that high TV watching and sitting time greatly corresponds to metabolic syndrome, the cocktail of disorders—including larger waist sizes, and increased triglyceride and blood glucose levels—that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. And a 2010 study revealed that high TV time—independent of exercise—was associated with a higher risk of premature cardiovascular disease mortality. In other words, no matter how hard someone may work out, too much channel surfing can shorten his or her life.

Is It Really Just Sitting That’s The Cause of An Epidemic?

Not all the experts agree. Dr. David Nieman, a professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University in Kannapolis, N.C., says, “[Healy’s] studies are interesting, but it’s going to take a lot more evidence to be convincing. I feel ultimately they will be discredited due to their small sample size.” (The latest Australian study used only about 100 subjects.) As Levine puts it, we live in “a chair-enticing environment and sitting is not something for which humans are built, evolutionarily speaking”. Sitting weakens your joints, decreases metabolic rate and perpetuates fatigue and poor posture, often contributing to back pain.

And objectively speaking, says Holtorf, it may not matter how much or intensely we exercise. “It’s what the body perceives us as doing, and the body is historically more used to constant motion. Besides, the average person on the Stairmaster doesn’t really burn that many calories in an hour.”  Healy lays out the lamentable facts: “Even lean individuals store at least two to three months of their energy needs in adipose tissue, whereas obese persons can carry a year’s worth of their energy needs. Obesity is the cumulative impact of energy imbalance over months and years.”

Further complicating the picture, adds Holtorf, is the fact that our “catabolic mode”—or the rate at which we burn calories—depends on many factors, including our previous fitness level, genetics, even our previous dieting history. “One study showed that people who have dieted and lost weight had a 25 percent lower metabolic rate than others of the same age, body fat and weight. Other studies have revealed that women who over-exercise and diet also have a [s]lower metabolism. Dieting and overtraining can shift the body into starvation mode.”

Taking a Whole-Day Approach to Physical Activity

Healey believes the key to attaining that state is to take a “whole day” approach to physical activity and try to incorporate movement across the day, not just when you hit the running track or bike trail. “Since incidental movements make up the bulk of energy expenditure for the average person, every little bit helps. Office workers can stand while on the phone, walk to see a colleague down the hall and take the stairs instead of the elevator.” She also suggests incorporating less-expensive technologies such as using height-adjustable desks and moving bins and printers to central locations.

It is important, Holtorf argues, to develop a consistent routine. “In your 15-minute work break, do intensive exercise using a pull-up bar or light weights. This is better than taking a ‘brisk’ walk, which the body may not perceive as physiological stress.” Other ideas: Pace while making phone calls. One source suggested introducing walking treadmills for office workers, but that may be both logistically risky and financially prohibitory to accomplish on a large scale. But stability ball chairs are doable. Plus, people can bike to work, cities can build more greenways, politicians can recommend closing off downtown areas to traffic (as Mayor Bloomberg has in New York City), and, of course, educators can put physical education back into the school curriculum. “Exercise has been engineered out of our lives,” explains Levine, “and we have to re-engineer our work, school and home environments to render active living the option of choice.”

New research implies that even if people are physically fit, long, uninterrupted periods of sedentary behavior are bad for their health. This extended sloth can cause what scientists call “detrimental metabolic effects.” That is, it may mitigate, if not erase, the benefits of exercise and lead to a state labeled “couch potato fitness.”

See you tomorrow for Day 11 of the 12 Days of Fitness

 

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

 

 

The Dangers of Sitting

painful-deskjobDid you know that the most dangerous thing you do everyday is probably the thing that you are doing reading this post right now? No, it’s not straining with your eyes (if that’s the case, you need to get that looked at too but that’s for another discussion).  It’s sitting! Yes, the one activity you do day in and day out without even a thought at all is having a compound negative effect on your health. While it may or may not come as a surprise to most, recent evidence is proving it is a very real problem. And the even more shocking news?  No matter how much one exercises, it’s what they do when not exercising that matters most in achieving true fitness.

The Research

According to Dr. Neville Owen, a speaker at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 2009 Annual Meeting, the average person sits 9.3 hours a day. The Nielsen company reports that the average American watches five hours of television during that same day, while other studies show that most Americans spend another hour Internet surfing. Add to that all the e-mailing, texting, Tweeting, time spent driving, and stack it up against a four-day-a-week step class—which is what a rash of new studies are doing—and the news isn’t good.

New research implies that even if people are physically fit, long, uninterrupted periods of sedentary behavior are bad for their health. This extended sloth can cause what scientists call “detrimental metabolic effects”, or what Nancy Clark, director of nutrition services at SportsMedicine Associates in Brookline, Mass., calls the “sedentary athlete”. That is, it may mitigate, if not erase, the benefits of exercise and lead to a state labeled “couch potato fitness.”

Australian researchers led by Dr. Geraldine Healy, research fellow at the Heart and Diabetes Institute at the University of Queensland, determined that longer average bouts of sitting and lying down (independent of the total per diem veg-out time) are associated with a higher percentage of body fat, in women—although, curiously, not men. In the researchers’ words, “These findings provide preliminary evidence on the potential importance for human health of avoiding prolonged periods of being sedentary, independent of physical activity. [They] support findings from studies of the metabolic consequences of television viewing time.”

Additional studies conducted by Healy’s team, Dr. David Levine and his fellow Mayo Clinic researchers, plus others, all come to the same conclusion, regardless of gender. Low levels of non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), or how much energy is burned from all physical activities “other than volitional sporting-like exercise” such as playing with kids, manual labor and dancing—are the source of America’s obesity epidemic. Other studies by Healy have shown that high TV watching and sitting time greatly corresponds to metabolic syndrome, the cocktail of disorders—including larger waist sizes, and increased triglyceride and blood glucose levels—that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. And a 2010 study revealed that high TV time—independent of exercise—was associated with a higher risk of premature cardiovascular disease mortality. In other words, no matter how hard someone may work out, too much channel surfing can shorten his or her life.

The weight of evidence seems to lie with NEAT. Certainly, Western society makes it far too easy to do nothing. As Levine puts it, we live in “a chair-enticing environment.” He claims that many people who have an innate tendency to sit in one position—as opposed to fidgeting—for long periods of time become obese.

What’s So Wrong With Sitting?

Sitting is not something we were built for; otherwise we would have been born rocks with no limbs for ambulation.  Most of society does very little physical anymore and everything is made more convenient to almost prevent it. The musculoskeletal system is hardly being used. Sitting all day weakens your joints, decreases metabolic rate and perpetuates fatigue and poor posture, which often contribute to back pain.

From an exercise standpoint, it may not matter how much or intensely you exercise. Fitness is more about what the body perceives us as doing, and the body is historically more used to constant motion.  The rate at which we burn calories, or use energy, depends on many different factors such as previous fitness level, genetics, even our previous dieting history. “One study showed that people who have dieted and lost weight had a 25 percent lower metabolic rate than others of the same age, body fat and weight. Other studies have revealed that women who over-exercise and diet also have a [s]lower metabolism. Dieting and overtraining can shift the body into starvation mode.”

Get Up Off Your Ass

Healey believes the key to attaining that state is to take a “whole day” approach to physical activity and try to incorporate movement across the day, not just when you go to workout. “Since incidental movements make up the bulk of energy expenditure for the average person, every little bit helps.  She also suggests incorporating less-expensive technologies such as using height-adjustable desks and moving bins and printers to central locations. “Exercise has been engineered out of our lives,” explains Levine, “and we have to re-engineer our work, school and home environments to render active living the option of choice.” The bottom line, says Clark, is that it’s “not healthy for a person to exercise one hour a day and sit the rest of the time.”

Some Helpful Tips to Keep You Moving

Not every profession will have the luxury of getting time away from the shackles of their office chair, nor will every person get up from their couch at night during commercial breaks thanks to DVR technology. But the less time spent sitting and the more time spent moving will have a great health benefit and make exercise work that much better for you.  Here are a few helpful hints:

At the Office:

  • Get up and walk around when answering phone calls
  • Deliver messages personally instead of email
  • Give yourself a stand up and stretch break every 20 minutes or so.  Even the act of standing and resulting redistribution of blood flow  may encourage better thought processes and increase energy
  • Take a bathroom break every 45 minutes to one hour even if you don’t have to go.  Refill your water bottle or just go to get a breath of fresh air.

At Home

  • Allow yourself time to unwind but also plan breaks to get up and go refill water, go to the bathroom, etc.
  • Workout while watching TV. (I know many people who have exercise equipment with TV viewing made convenient)
  • Select only certain evening to watch TV and keep it to a minimum

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Defeating Back Pain at the Office

back painIt’s only Monday and you’re already wishing it was Friday. Sound too familiar? Is work really that bad or is it that you just don’t enjoy what you’re doing? Or is it perhaps that the cause of your anguish really has nothing to do with your job, your career, or your colleagues? Chances are, the one thing that can make any work seem a lot worse than it actually is the one thing you take to work and even take it back home with you. I’m talking of course about your back.

Most of us take our back health for granted until the day that it causes great discomfort.  To this day, back pain is the number one reason why people make appointments to see their doctors, and in most cases, not until the pain has become unbearable.  Identifying back pain is easy and can range from dull, nagging aches, to stiffness, to unexpected sudden twinges or spasms. The more difficult part, but most critical, is being able to identify how you developed the back pain in the first place.

Some common presumed causes of back pain would be picking up a heavy object improperly, bending over awkwardly to pick up something that was dropped, or sleeping in a goofy position.  While all of those causes could certainly lead to back pain, they were more the proverbial “stick that broke the camel’s back” of poor body mechanics and muscle imbalances. After a while, something has to give.  The real culprit in the imbalances we experience is not just from all the sitting, standing, or lifting we may do at work, but how our bodies have to adapt to all of the sitting, standing, or lifting.

Let’s take sitting for example. Due to the amount of time most people spend sitting, the body must gradually adapt itself to that position. This happens in a number of ways. The first thing it must adapt to is how the weight goes through the hips and pelvis. Then, there is the way in which you sit – upright, slouching, or something in between. But what’s most important and often overlooked is what happens to the postural, core, and support muscles while you’re sitting. For example, the hip flexors (crease where the thighs and hips meet) will get tight from being in a shortened position, and the opposing muscles, the gluteus maximus (a.k.a. the butt) will get weak and atrophy from being in a relaxed state. The simple combination of tight hip flexors and weak glutes is what ultimately becomes a “muscle imbalance.” The result of these muscle imbalances will be postural dysfunctions of the pelvis and spine. These imbalances send both the spine and pelvis into abnormal positions, the combination of which can be devastating to a person with a healthy back (the back that goes out from bending over to pick up a simple paper clip) and catastrophic for a person suffering from any form of back pain (i.e. bulged disc). What you must understand is that these imbalances are the direct result of what you do in your everyday life – sitting, the activities of your job, and your own personal habits. What can you do about it?

The good news.  Back pain is highly preventable and even if back pain already exists, can be treated and remedied without any without medications or drugs.  To prevent back pain from occurring, here are some action steps to take:

Sitting

If your job requires you to sit, get up and move around every 20 minutes, even if not just to stand up. While sitting, sit with your legs in different positions and try to keep the legs moving. Stand up when the phone rings or when you have to read something.  Bottom line – stay off of your bottom as much as possible

Standing

If your job requires you to stand all day long, be sure you have quality footwear and a neutral shoe insert. Body mechanics start when our feet hit the ground. It is best if your feet are in the most neutral position possible. One negative body pattern that many people fall into is to continually shift their weight from one foot to the other. The problem with this is that most people eventually find that one leg will be more comfortable than the other, and then that leg will get most of the weight most of the time. This will wreak havoc on the pelvis and spine. Better to put equal pressure on each foot as much as you can, and learn to correct when you catch yourself shifting your weight or leaning on one leg too much.

Lifting

A third obstacle on the job can be situations where you have to lift anything over 10 pounds repeatedly. Again, it’s not the activity itself that puts you in jeopardy; it’s your body’s inability to tolerate the stress of the weight. In other words, you should be able to lift anything you want to and not have any difficulty doing it. The problem occurs when your body is suffering from the muscle imbalances and postural dysfunctions discussed earlier. So, when you lift that object and get injured, the body was already in a compromised state, and it just needed that last bit of stress to send you in to a painful situation.

Stress

It’s an unavoidable fact of life at work, and it can also play a role by causing your muscles to tense up, which makes you more prone to injury. Stress also lowers your tolerance for pain. In some cases, minimizing stress on the job can be a daunting task, but deep-breathing exercises, walking around the block, or even talking about your frustrations with a trusted friend can help.

The best and most reliable ways to prevent and treat back pain is good old fashioned exercise (specifically designed to address muscular imbalances), flexibility training, yoga, regular massage treatments, and proper rest (a good bed is worth its weight in gold). You only get one body…take good care of it.

Featured in March 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Sitting on the Job

images (1)It wasn’t long ago when the workplace involved serious physical labor (at least 12-14 hours); most of the work day was spent standing and moving; and the only climate control was that the seasons changed every three months. Today, while some may still experience long work days and physical labor, a larger percentage of the working population is seated while on the job. Aside from the physical problems that sitting causes (tightening of the hamstrings, stiff lower backs, weakening of the posture muscles, etc.), sedentary labor is taking an equally large toll on our health.  A new study suggests that a major reason so many people are overweight is because they simply just sit too much.

In the study, published in the November 2007 issue of Diabetes, scientists at the University of Missouri made a startling discovery.  When we sit, not only are there biomechanical stressors at work, but the enzymes that are responsible for burning fat actually shut down. And unfortunately, not even a regular dose of exercise can combat the resultant weight gain.  Dr. Marc Hamilton, associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia and leader of the research team says, “(The medical community) has always had a general sense of how bad sitting is for you, that it elevated the risks for many illnesses,  but we weren’t sure why.  In this study, we focused on a variety of cellular mechanisms affected by inactivity, one of which was an enzyme (lipase) in muscles – the only enzyme that gets fat out of the blood stream and which is critical for cholesterol regulation.” Dr. Hamilton further reported that the second major revelation from the study was “that the body reacts physiologically different from sitting than the way it responds to exercise.”  Basically, our bodies treat sitting almost like a form of hibernation – storing calories and conserving energy – as opposed to exercise which has the opposite, positive effect. The net result: the body’s ability to burn calories through exercise is inversely proportional to the amount of time spent sitting. Thus, the more you sit, the less you burn, regardless of the amount of exercise performed. When you consider the sobering fact that only 15 percent of Americans have memberships to a health club, and only a small percentage of those members are regular users, the cost of sitting is even more profound.

Sitting is largely a consequence of our sedentary work environment. While it would be very easy for some to blame work for the rise in the workforce waistline, the number of progressive companies taking positive action is rising.  Many companies provide in-house fitness centers, health club subsidies, lower insurance premiums for fit employees, and other incentives, despite the exercise aversion of many employees and the contradictory pressures to stay at their desks and work. In fact, one particular company took that thought process into account when they went to work to find a solution to that problem.

In November 2007, US based furniture manufacturer Steelcase, Inc.  in conjunction with obesity specialist  Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, launched the Walkstation – a complete workstation equipped with a computer and low-speed treadmill that theoretically enables employees to burn calories while on the job (preliminary research saw an average weight loss of approx. 40 lbs per year).  One thing’s for sure; it eliminates the excuse of not having time to workout by combining work with exercise.  The question is: is this a feasible substitute for getting more of the workforce standing and moving, thus burning more calories? Or is just yet another “glamorous” way of giving people the false impression that they are getting an effective workout while working?

Bottom line, sitting is not good for us.  We were not designed to sit for prolonged periods of time and gravity will continue to have its way with our physiques.  With new research indicating there’s more of a concern to sitting from a biochemical stand point, it couldn’t be any clearer as to what is the best solution whether your workstation turns into a small gym or not – GET UP AND MOVE!!!

Featured in May 2008 Issue of 422 Business Advisor