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You’ve probably heard that sitting is the new smoking. And it’s true excessive sitting, like smoking, comes with a lot of health risks…
While sitting too much isn’t the leading cause of premature death (that honor is still reserved for smoking), it is the second leading cause of premature death. And sitting has been tied to an increased risk of several serious diseases like cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
So, sitting is bad for your health. There’s no doubt about that. Where the confusion lies is in how much sitting is safe from a health perspective, and how much physical activity is necessary to counteract the negative consequences of sitting.
Some studies show that the health consequences of sitting all day can’t be counteracted by any amount of exercise… which is a bummer for many of us (myself included) who have sedentary jobs. But other studies offer more hope…
They say that whether you sit a lot or not, physical activity helps lower your health risks. A 2015 study, for example, found that no matter how much exercise you get, you lower your risk of premature death. And another recent study from researchers at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland found that reducing your sedentary time by a mere 21 minutes per day is enough to improve your health in substantial ways…
There’s still hope for office workers
In their study, University of Jyväskylä researchers divided 133 office workers with young children into two groups. One group received an intervention designed to help them reduce their sedentary time by 21 minutes daily, and the other group didn’t.
Researchers worked with the intervention group to identify strategies to reduce the amount of time spent sitting at work and in their personal life. They also helped group members set goals to implement these strategies. Then they waited a year to see what would happen, and here’s what they found a year later…
Their intervention worked. People sat less. But more importantly, sitting for 21 less minutes each day made a big difference in certain health biomarkers. Participants in the intervention group had lower fasting blood sugar levels. They improved their Apolipoprotein B-to-Apolipoprotein A-1 ratio (a measure used to gauge cardiovascular health). They also maintained muscle mass in their legs, while people in the group who didn’t receive an intervention lost leg muscle mass over the course of the year.
This study points to one important conclusion… one that you should definitely take to heart…
Even a small reduction in the time you spend being sedentary each day makes a big difference in your health. So don’t believe all the naysayers that say you’re doomed unless you’re on the move all day long. There’s hope for all of us… even those stuck at a computer all day.
How to squeeze in 21 more minutes of movement each day
Being busy is a fact of life nowadays, so maybe you’re struggling to think of ways you can squeeze in an extra 21 minutes of movement each day…
Well, if you watch any TV, the easiest way is to cut 21 minutes out of your TV time. That only means one less episode of your favorite sitcom. Or, if there’s something on that you really want to watch, consider investing in a stationary bike that can keep you moving while you watch. You can also limit the time you spend doing other time-wasting activities like surfing the web and scrolling through your Facebook feed.
And, as unpleasant as it sounds, you could wake up 21 minutes earlier every morning and squeeze in a walk or workout then (or extend the morning workout you’re already doing). If it’s possible, you may even consider an active commute. Riding your bike or walking to work can easily add more movement to your daily life.
You could also look at how you’re spending your work breaks. Maybe you can use break-time to take a quick walk instead of sitting at your desk or standing around the water cooler.
In the evening, consider making family bonding time more active. Go for a walk. Play a game in the park. Turn up some music and have an impromptu dance party. Before you know it, you’ll have 21 more minutes of movement under your belt and a much better chance of living a long and healthy life.
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- Only 20 minutes less sitting per day is enough to maintain good health and muscle mass — MedicalXpress. Retrieved August 31, 2017.
- Why sitting is not the ‘new smoking.’ — The Conversation. Retrieved August 31, 2017.
- Sitting Is the New Smoking: Ways a Sedentary Lifestyle Is Killing You — Huffington Post. Retrieved August 31, 2017.
- J. Pesola, et al. “Accelerometer-assessed sedentary work, leisure time and cardio-metabolic biomarkers during one year: Effectiveness of a cluster randomized controlled trial in parents with a sedentary occupation and young children.” — PLOS ONE, 2017.
- Y. Chau, et al. “Sitting ducks face chronic disease: an analysis of newspaper coverage of sedentary behaviour as a health issue in Australia 2000-2012.” — Health Promotion Journal of Australia. 2017 Jan 12.
- Gebel, et al. “Effect of Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity on All-Cause Mortality in Middle-aged and Older Australians.” — JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015;175(6):970-977.