I read a study this week that scares me. I consider myself moderately active. I move around a good deal in clinic and surgery. On days devoted to writing, my podcast, or other social media activities, however, I spend a lot of time sitting. I’ll sit for many hours straight and often work for 10 to 12 hours or more.
I’ve never worried about it because I exercise. I lift weights four days per week. I do cardiovascular exercise 3 to 4 days each week. I even do a stretching routine a few days per week. (That is by far the hardest one to make myself do!) I just assumed that my exercise would make up for all of my sedentary time.
That study I read suggests that I might be completely wrong. In the study published online in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, Dorothy Dunlop and other researchers looked at the effect of sedentary behavior on disability with activities of daily living among people 60 and older.
The authors used the National Health and Nutrition Examinations Surveys to collect data on the number of hours of sedentary behavior and exercise and correlated it with disability. They observed two startling findings:
• The 2286 participants spent an average of 8.9 hours per day in sedentary behaviors during awake time.
• For every hour spent in sedentary activity, the odds of disability increased 46%, independent of the time spent doing moderate to vigorous physical activity.
This study just looks at an older population and disability, which is scary enough. I think the real concern comes in the possibility that these findings might apply to all of us. It seems plausible that hours spent working at a desk or watching television could harm all of us any more ways than just disability.
Even 20- to 40-year-olds who run after work or play basketball on weekends might still be at a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, or cardiovascular events by sitting for long periods each day. We still have much to learn in this area, but this study might be one of the first warnings.
What can we do?
I, for one, know I need to make some changes despite fairly regular exercise. These are my three planned attempts:
• Watch less television. Honestly I don’t watch much TV other than sports, so this shouldn’t be too hard. (If Liverpool is playing, I’m still watching!) But now I will watch no more than one hour per day – no exceptions. Only one episode of House of Cards or Brooklyn Nine-Nine as a work break from now on.
• Add physical activity to my writing. This will be the tough one. I can’t write while I run or work out. I do a fair amount of research, though. Maybe I can create a treadmill desk, like my friend PJ Jonas did, and get some of my work done while moving. I welcome any and all suggestions.
• Do some physical activity every 30 minutes. I recently got an Up24 fitness tracking bracelet, and I love it. (See my Resources page for information and disclaimer.) After reading this study, I set it to vibrate every 30 minutes I’m not moving. Now I just need to make myself do kettlebell swings, ab exercises, or some sort of exercise to break up the sitting time.
What will you do to be less sedentary? How can you get physical activity despite working at a desk all day? Please share your thoughts and ideas below!
Dunlop D, Song J, Arnston E, Semanik P, Lee J, Chang R, Hootman JM. Sedentary Time in U.S. Older Adults Associated With Disability in Activities of Daily Living Independent of Physical Activity. ,. Published online ahead of print February 19, 2014.