Chances are you’ve read a few headlines over the last few years branding sitting as the new smoking. It’s true, prolonged sitting carries with it a host of health problems. The good news is there are ways to combat the ill effects without changing your career and abandoning your desk job.
Besides the toll it takes on muscles, ligaments and bones, long stretches of being sedentary stalls our body’s natural metabolic processes of reducing blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Glucose is an important energy source for our muscles and brain but increased glucose in our blood leads to inflammation throughout the body, including in our blood vessels, joints and organs.
It turns out even gentle muscle movement triggers important processes that help breakdown fats and sugars in the body. Active muscles are very good at absorbing glucose from the blood and also lowering bad cholesterol levels.
Numerous studies, including one published this year in the National Library of Medicine have found a direct correlation between a sedentary lifestyle and dementia. Researchers believe this cognitive decline results from poor glycemic control, which is a fancy way of saying increased blood glucose, and also from poor blood circulation to the brain.
When we’re moving, our muscles are contracting and helping to push blood back to our heart. Simple movements of stretching and walking work to improve circulation throughout our entire body including our brain.
Studies are clear that people that sit for long periods, have a higher risk of developing cancer. Although scientists are not certain why this is, they do understand that time spent sitting has a negative impact on hormone levels and the way our immune system works. Some researchers also believe increased levels of chronic inflammation could be at the root of higher cancer rates.
After a full day of sitting at your desk do you feel the need to crash on the couch because your back is killing you? Sitting for too long can cause pressure on the spine, resulting in back and neck pain and even muscle spasms. Long periods of sitting also decreases blood supply to your muscles which results in muscle fatigue and weakness. Muscles that are fatigued are more prone to strains and injury. These weakened muscles also have a difficult time protecting your joints from more serious injury.
Unfortunately even people that get healthy amounts of moderate and vigorous exercise on a regular basis are not immune to the negative impacts of prolonged sitting.
Don’t give up your morning run or evening weight training session; vigorous exercise is a crucial part of staying healthy. But do make a conscious decision to frequently move your body throughout the day. Experts at Harvard Medical School recommend two minutes of movement every 30 minutes. This can include stretching, marching on the spot, running up a flight of stairs or doing a few push-ups against the wall.
Consider investing in a resistance band and some hand weights to leave under your desk and alternate between walking and doing resistance exercises throughout your day. By day’s end you could have all your bicep curls and squats completed before you even hit the gym.
If you find it hard to leave your desk every half an hour you may want to consider some of the higher tech options out there like treadmill or stationary bike desks or compact peddlers that can slip under your desk.
Not only does continuous activity improve your body’s metabolic and immune functions but researchers at the University of Colorado found that frequent movement breaks contributed to better concentration, higher energy levels and overall feelings of well-being.