By Anthony C. Leachon, MD
Our modern world is designed to encourage a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, just about every modern convenience is centered on making us as physically inactive as possible.
Elevators, escalators, all forms of transport, television, fast foods – all are designed to make our lives “easier” and, in the process, almost completely sedentary.
Whether you work at home or in an office, chances are you’re glued to an office chair all day, or stuck behind a computer screen, and the only parts of your body getting any kind of significant exercise are your typing fingers.
Recent studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle can be more potentially dangerous to our health than smoking.
In a study recently carried out at the University of Hong Kong, researchers found that 20 percent of deaths in people over the age of 35 could be directly attributed to physical inactivity. That is a higher percentage than death caused through smoking.
While our work requires us to be mentally agile, most of us lead a physically inactive lifestyle that can lead to a number of health problems.
A sedentary lifestyle can also lead to weight gain and obesity which, in turn, contributes to diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In the modern world, working requires very little physical effort and the more physically inactive we are, the unhealthier we become.
Here are a few tips to avoid a sedentary lifestyle:
1. Circulate among your officemates periodically
Being self-aware to stand every two to three hours and walk for five minutes to break the monotony of sitting all day in your workplace can be life-saving. Make it a habit to get out of your cubicle or office and go and speak to a colleague in person rather than phoning or emailing.
2. Use stand-up desks: Stand up for your health or become a sitting duck for disease
Many employers globally are installing standing or adjustable sit-stand desks to improve workers’ productivity, health and in some cases, their lifespan.
By sitting and being sedentary your fitness falls, blood in the lower limbs stagnates a bit and you can have increased risk of blood clots.
In the long term, it is possible that there is an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and peripheral vascular disease and possibly an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the legs).
3. Get out during your lunch break
Use your lunch break to get some exercise rather than sitting down indoors and eating. After spending hours in front of a computer screen, getting out into the open air will lift your spirits as well as offer a good opportunity to exercise your body. Visit a nearby gym for a run on a treadmill. Go for a stroll in a nearby mall or a park; take in the sights, sounds and smells. Resist the urge to sit down for lunch.
4. Eat less high calorie foods
Let’s take a moment and think about what we put into our bodies. So much of the food available to us is processed into various textures, shapes, and flavors of simple carbohydrates. Some staples of our diets – pasta, rice, breads, and cereals – may not be sweet, but they convert into sugar when broken down in our bodies. What isn’t immediately used for energy is often stored as fat. The human body was not meant to survive on a carb-heavy and exclusive diet.
Constant snacking and drinking too much coffee often goes hand in hand with the sedentary lifestyle. So eating less may be easier said than done. Think of it this way: because you’re physically inactive all day, your body requires far fewer calories. It stands to reason therefore, that if you want to avoid weight gain, you will need to eat less. Rather substitute snacking with drinking lots of water.
5. Interact with people face-to-face
Modern communications have been designed to make our lives easier – and more sedentary. In order to communicate with people during working hours, all we need do is pick up a phone or send an email. Do the same with clients you may need to consult. Getting out of the office or out of the house will literally be a breath of fresh air, and very likely improve your focus and levels of concentration. As well as getting some exercise, getting out can also inspire you with fresh ideas.
6. Take the stairs instead of the elevator
Make a habit of taking the stairs rather than the elevator. Climbing a few flights of stairs at least once a day is a great form of cardiovascular exercise.
7. Participate in some sport activities in tAhe office
Joining a sports team either at work or the local club is a great way to get regular, stimulating exercise. Sport is a fun way to combat a sedentary lifestyle, while having the added benefit of meeting and interacting with people. Organized sport will give you something to look forward to and is also a great antidote to weight gain and inactivity.
VitalSigns Issue 65 Vol. 3, July 1-31, 2014