Is sitting really the new smoking?

Sitting disease. There’s a lot of it about.
It seems that sitting disease just kind of snuck up on us when we weren’t looking, and now we face the horrible realisation that not only are we shortening our lives with this practice, it’s also dumbing us down.

Business writer https://embed-ssl.ted.com/talks/nilofer_merchant_got_a_meeting_take_a_walk.html“>Nilofer Merchant in a TED conference in 2013 talked about how she sees sitting as the new smoking.

The word around town is that sitting is bad and so there has been a frenzy of activity as workplaces install (sometimes quite expensive) standing desks, tredputers and encourage stand up or walking meetings.

Having moved away from General Practice land where I had been pretty active through out my working days, it wasn’t until I found myself seeking relief with physiotherapy and remedial massage recently for the increasing back-ache, tight “glutes” and hamstrings that the penny dropped. I was sitting much, much more in my new role as author, blogger and researcher.

But it’s not sitting per se that is the problem. It’s the length of time we spend sitting without moving that is the issue. And I’m not sure that standing all the time is the answer either. Having endured years of hospital ward rounds that invariably went on for hours, I was usually the one surreptitiously looking for a wall to lean against, or a  bed to perch on to ease the monotony and back ache from standing too long. It seems sometimes we just can’t win.

We live in an increasingly sedentary society where many people now spend many long hours working at a desk with a computer and we’re simply not moving enough. Statistics reveal how in some instances people are spending more time sitting than they do asleep in their bed. If the average person spends 7-8 hours in bed, and 9-10 hours each day sitting in an office, it’s easy to see how those figures stack up.

For the brain prolonged sitting is bad news because the reduction in cognitive blood flow diminishes our capacity for good thinking and affects the pre-frontal cortex, our executive suite the most.
Plus there are multiple reasons for not sitting because of the adverse effect on our physical wellbeing. It is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, bowel cancer and a drop in those enzymes required to burn off fat, so we become fatter, sicker and dumber.

Worst of all is the news that prolonged sitting totally negates the beneficial effects of doing 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. So if you religiously get up and go and do your 30-minute run or gym workout and then spend the rest of your day sitting. Sorry but you just wasted that great exercise time and the benefit to your mental and physical health wellbeing.

So next time you find your self stuck in front of a computer while sitting at your desk for too long, don’t just sit there, take the opportunity to get up, take a stretch or a brief walk, even if it’s just to the water cooler, the loo or the kitchen to make yourself a coffee. Because movement helps us to pay better attention, increases our focus and improves our other executive thinking skills such as logic, analysis, reasoning, planning and decision-making.

The answer is simple. We need to sit for shorter periods of time and move more.

So why not take a look at your daily schedule and look for the opportunity for an extra 5-10 minutes of opportunistic movement every hour? Whether you choose to spend that time doing some yoga, doing the salute to the sun or downward dog, some general stretches or a quick stroll to speak to a colleague at another location, it’s all about remembering to use that wonderful vehicle we have been endowed with to help transport our brain from one location to another; our body.

Top Tips to move more.

1. Use a timer. For every hour spent sitting , stand or move for 5-10 mins
2. Take phone calls or chat to people standing up.
3. Get a pedometer and count steps Ideally 10,000 every day
4. Want something a bit more “with it”? Why not get a Fit Bit or Nike Fuel Band?
5. Choose a different form of transport from your car (if appropriate) to get to and from work. Look to include walking or cycling as part of your journey.
6. Go outside for lunch and walk to a café. Take time for a stroll after before heading back to the office.
7. Take the stairs, not the elevator or lift. OK, if you work on the 25th floor, maybe get out a couple of levels down from your destination and walk the last couple.

Of course if you feel inclined to try a standing desk, then go for it. Many people have reported they find them easy to use and adapt to. Some choose to alternate their working position during the day between standing and sitting. It’s about finding what works for you, in your particular workplace situation.

If we use our body and brain in the way it was designed, not only will we probably live longer; we’ll also enjoy better health, greater efficiency and productivity. Which sounds like something the Doctor just ordered.

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