and Tamiko Morgan, MD
Eighty-six percent of Americans sit all day at work. We remember the days when we “envied” those who had the ability to sit at work. As practicing physicians, much of our time at work was spent on our feet, and sitting was often considered a treat on a busy day! Now that we have transitioned to jobs that require less physical exertion, we wondered just how beneficial or detrimental this change would be.
Sedentary jobs are those that are characterized by or involve sitting. Sedentary is also described as “not doing or involving much physical activity” (Merriam-Webster). According to the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 55 percent of waking hours are spent on sedentary behavior.
It is estimated that 21 hours a day are spent in sedentary activity: sleeping, sitting at work, watching T.V., leisure time, computer work, eating, etc. The average person only gets three “active” hours during a day (please note, this “active” time is not equivalent to the recommended 150 minutes/week of moderate-intensity physical activity for most adults, but simply represents time not sitting). This phenomenon has been described in some literature as “sitting disease.”
Over the years, the percentage of time spent doing sedentary activities and the number of adults who are physically inactive is increasing. It is estimated that a significant number of adults and tenens are physically inactive. This phenomenon of “sitting disease” (or lack of inactivity), has undoubtedly contributed to our epidemic of obesity and its related health consequences.
The risk for diseases such as diabetes and heart disease increases, and in fact, sedentary behavior is considered an independent risk factor for death! Prolonged sitting has also been related to worsening mental health and a higher risk of being disabled. Certain medical conditions may also be exacerbated by sitting. Let’s take a closer look at this.
So what happens to our bodies when we sit? There are several things that take place in our bodies when we sit. Here are just a few: less fat-burning activity, slower blood flow, increased blood sugar, increased bad cholesterol, decreased good cholesterol, muscle degeneration/ breakdown, poor circulation in legs, decreased bone strength, slower brain function, strained neck and back.
What do we do about this? Well, let’s look at what we are able to control. Realistically, most people aren’t able to just quit their job; however, most do have some control over what they are able to do on the job, and definitely what we do outside of the work place.
In the past, it was thought that exercise could “undue” the effects of prolonged sitting. However, recent studies suggest that it may not be this simple. While it’s true that regular physical activity and higher cardio-respiratory fitness may increase one’s health, prevention is key when addressing the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. Here are a few suggestions to keep it moving while at work and home and to burn off calories effortlessly.
• Stand up every 30 minutes (stand, stretch, walk in place…use a timer if necessary). In fact, just standing burns calories. Some use a standing desk. Standing there hours per day, three days per week will burn off 10 pounds in a year!
• Be creative in getting activity in.
• Move around during T.V. commercial breaks — walk up and down the stairs during commercials.
• Walk to give someone a message at work instead of sending email.
• Stand when talking on phone or reading.
• Go to the restroom that is farthest away.
• Take steps versus elevator when able.
• Have standing or walk meetings.
• Move around if you have to sit.
• Practice desk stretches.
• Practice correct posture for sitting. Correct posture will not only make you look taller, it will strengthen your abdominal muscles.
• Consider moveable/standing desk or exercise ball/backless seat for sitting (increases core muscle use), other ergonomic support.
• Do things by hand, like the dishes.
Normal household duties can also provide fitness and calorie burning; for example, minutes of yard work required to burn 100 calories: mowing the lawn (20), painting house (18), raking leaves (23), shoveling snow (15), washing the car (20), weeding the garden (18).
Minutes of everyday activities that will burn 100 calories: carrying an infant (24), moderate cleaning (26), cooking (34), doing dishes (40), mopping the floor (20), playing with children (23), pushing a stroller (35), rearranging furniture (14), shopping (38), sweeping (23), walking the dog (26).
These are just a few suggestions. Remember, this is not a “do it for two weeks” plan — this is a lifestyle modification. These suggestions are small, easy steps to incorporate into your daily routines that will increase your health and overall fitness. Be creative based on your lifestyle and needs, and remember the concept of balance: Too much or too little of anything is usually not a good thing!
Thanks to www.SparkPeople.com for information in this column.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the U.S. by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.
Dr. Tamiko Morgan is the chief medical officer/medical director at Metropolitan Health Plan (MHP). She is board certified in pediatrics, with additional training in healthcare administration, integrative medicine, and health coaching. She is an active advocate in the community in eliminating healthcare disparities and serves as the vice president of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians. She is author of the book VIP Very Important Patient: The African American Woman’s Guide to Health Care, Healing, & Wellness.