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There are many ways to die; none of them are good. Most of us, don’t die because of natural disasters or traumatic events. No, our deaths are slow and deliberate and based on our lifestyle choices. We die from diseases, preventable diseases, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease: in other words, disease of luxury, or what some could call, laziness.
Despite knowing what to do, we instead indulge in bad foods and bad habits. And so, believe it or not, our death is a form of suicide. We choose to die prematurely by not choosing to do things that will prolong our life.
A nation of sedentary citizens
Diet and exercises are the two mainstays of health building and disease – and early death — prevention. More than that, our choices put us in positions of handling too much stress, sleeping too few hours per night, and engaging in activities that wear out our bodies.
What’s more, we are now a sedentary nation of sitters. We awake from sleep and sit at the table, sit on our sofas, sit in our cars, sit at our work desks, and sit again in our cars, at our tables and on our sofas again. And all this sitting, regardless of whether we exercise or eat right, is leading us to premature die.
The seat of death
Last month the Journal of Internal Medicine posted a study titled, “Sedentary Time and Its Association with Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults.” The authors of this systematic review and meta-analysis looked at data from nearly 50 studies, including those found in MEDLINE, PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, Cochrane Library, Web of Knowledge, and Google Scholar databases were searched through August 2014 with hand-searching of in-text citations and no publication date limitations.
The purpose of the meta-analysis was to quantify the association between sedentary time and hospitalizations, all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer in adults independent of physical activity. What they found is shocking, if perhaps not unexpected.
Their findings led researchers to conclude that “prolonged sedentary time was independently associated with deleterious health outcomes regardless of physical activity.”
The sedentary facts
Let me restate the last part of the previous sentence. No matter how much you exercise and how well you eat, you are still placing yourself at risk of premature death by preventable diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, just because you sit too long.
Statistics provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) put the sedentary lifestyle in perspective.
- Insufficient physical activity is one of the 10 leading risk factors for death worldwide.
- Insufficient physical activity is a key risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.
- Physical activity has significant health benefits and contributes to preventing NCDs.
- Globally, one in four adults is not active enough.
- More than 80 percent of the world’s adolescent population is insufficiently physically active.
Why sitting changes our health
According to lead researcher Aviroop Biswas, “When we’re standing, certain muscles in our body are working very hard to keep us upright… Once we sit for a long time… our metabolism is not as functional, and the inactivity is associated with a lot of negative effects.”
According to this theory, the onset of disease is a problem with metabolic function. It could be, after all the study found that exercising even as much as an hour per day – which is a lot for most adult Americans – simply is not sufficient. Not the exercise itself, mind you, but the fact that physical activity is not spread across our entire day.
Become more active
Simply by becoming more active – and thus less sedentary – you can reduce your risk of several preventable diseases, like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Physical activity does not necessarily mean exercise, though. Exercise is more planned and requires one to set aside portions of time. Physical activity just means being more physically active and thus sitting for shorter periods throughout the day.
The good news is that there are almost an endless number of things you can do to change your daily routine in ways that allow for more physical activity. Let me share with you a few things that I have done to add to my quota of extra daily physical activity:
- When possible, I park down the street or in the space furthest from the door of the building I need to enter. This forces me to walk a bit more.
- I always take the stairs as opposed to the elevator. If the floor is too high (say above five floors), I will consider walking up the first several flights of stairs and then I may take the elevator for the remainder of the journey. Sometimes it is not “polite” to show up in sweaty clothes.
- I carry a handbasket when grocery shopping. This forces me to hold and carry the heavy basket, and also that I make several smaller trips several times per week. This means parking far from the door, walking and carrying baskets several days per week. Where possible I try to walk to the store, post office, park etc. in addition to making it a point to walk daily for at least 15 minutes at a time.
- Every time I am on the phone, at home or at work, I stand up. The phone is a signal to get out of my seat and stand.
These are just a few of the ways in which you can become more active and thus less sedentary. And the study shows us that being sedentary all day is a leading cause of preventable early death, even if we exercise every day.
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Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults — Annals of Internal Medicine
Physical activity — World Health Organization