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Is sitting still the new smoking?

Many of us have been told that fidgeting is a sign of anxiety, rudeness, and a lack of concentration. But habitual fidgeting — tapping our feet, squirming, needing to move around — may actually help us live longer and healthier. A recent large study followed thousands of women for over a decade. And they found that fidgeting is associated with a significantly lower risk of premature death, body weight and insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes) compared to women who sat still.

This underscores the fact that fidgeting — movement, even in short bursts, or at low intensity — is good for our health and well-being. And this is likely because Mother Nature intended for us to move all body parts, often, in order to survive — hunt, gather and roam.

Today, our society is more sedentary. More and more jobs involve sitting down. In addition, computer, internet and smart phone use have skyrocketed. And let’s not forget other sitting activities such as watching television and commuting. Studies have shown that on average, we sit 7.7 hours a day (nearly half of our waking hours), and some results estimate people sit up to 15 hours a day!

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Fidgeting

Is sitting the new smoking?
While this is like comparing apples to donkeys, what we do know is that inactivity is dangerous. Several studies have shown significant increases in the rate of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and premature death due to sitting. One study suggested that for every hour that a person sits and watches television, they lose 22 minutes from their lifespan. In comparison, for every cigarette that is smoked, a person loses 11 minutes.

Sitting can contribute to obesity
Moving our bodies requires that we burn fuel, just like cars do. On average, a 70 kg male will burn 84 calories sitting, 108 standing, and 324 walking. Over the course of the day, standing and walking burns significantly more calories. This can keep our waistlines trim. Obesity is a known risk factor for a number of chronic illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

Sitting can increase our risk for cancer
The American Cancer Society states that women who spend 6 or more hours sitting in a day have a 10 percent greater risk of getting cancer compared to women who sit for less than 3 hours in a day. In particular, they were 65% more likely to develop multiple myeloma, 43% more likely to develop ovarian cancer, and 10% more likely to develop invasive breast cancer.

Sitting and bad cholesterol
When we are sedentary, our body’s production of an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase decreases. This enzyme is important because it converts bad cholesterol into good cholesterol. And when bad cholesterol levels increase, this can contribute to plaque build up in our heart vessel walls that impede blood flow (otherwise known as atherosclerosis, or cardiovascular disease). Mild physical activity has been shown to rapidly reverse this ill-effect on lipoprotein lipase.

Sitting and insulin resistance
Even short-term physical inactivity is associated with the development of insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that serves as a “key” to allow glucose to enter the body’s cells and serve as energy to fuel its metabolic needs. Thus, insulin resistance leads to glucose buildup in the blood while our cells “starve” for energy. With time, insulin resistance can lead to pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes.

How can I become more active?

  • While watching television consider walking or running in place, lifting weights, or doing lunges, sit ups, or pushups, especially during commercials.
  • Treadmill workstation/walkstation. This requires space and may not be a reasonable option for everyone. There are a number of commercially available pieces of equipment on the market, but it can be as simple as placing a platform on the handles of a treadmill to place a laptop or papers.
  • Arrange your office for movement: By arranging items in your office out of “arm’s reach” this encourages movement that will add up throughout the day.
  • Move on your breaks: Set your alarm on your phone to go off every 1-2 hours to remind yourself to move or stretch. You can keep it simple by taking a few deep breaths, swinging your arms or going head to toe and slowly moving/contracting your neck, shoulder, arm, abs, gluts, hamstring, quadriceps and toe muscles.
  • Pedometer: Low priced devices are available that can quantify your movement throughout the day. You should have a goal of 6,000-10,000 steps a day. And, too, there are a number of new devices and gadgets that can help us gauge our activity.
  • Stand up whenever possible. Consider utilizing a headset so you can make phone calls while standing and moving. And make it a habit to reply to emails while you stand. And if you need to present information, work (and walk around) the room.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator

We are meant to move. And we were meant to move throughout the day. As employers and teachers, our employees and students are spending an increasing amount of time sitting. However, the workplace and classroom venues are an important environment to influence healthy lifestyle behaviors. Studies have shown that incorporating regular physical activity within business and worksite places is associated with improvements in job performance and morale, lower absenteeism and turnover, reduced disability days and even lower medical costs.

This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional. Dr. Nina has used all reasonable care in compiling the current information but it may not apply to you and your symptoms. Always consult your doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions or questions.


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