More Ways Being Active Can Save Your Life

More Ways Being Active Can Save Your Life

If you are sitting down right now, you NEED to read this for your health!

A couple of months ago, we posted about an often overlooked approach to burning excess weight and calories called NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. What we were suggesting was an adjustment to your lifestyle that is about embracing movement at every level. We pointed out that a much larger portion of your daily energy usage comes from NEAT than from aerobic exercise, so it makes sense to focus more on it.  It simply requires a change in habits -- paying more attention in every moment to find ways to move more.

So why am I mentioning this again? Well it turns out that despite exercise being the first thing everybody jumps to, it may not be able to help when it comes to some pretty important aspects of modern healthNo matter how regularly you exercise, one of the primary factors in determining your state of health is actually what you do in all the hours when you are not exercising (or sleeping.)

In the 21st century, a very large portion of most people's days is spent sitting. We accept it as an unfortunate but unavoidable fact of life. But research is now telling us that sitting for long periods can be very damaging to your health, to the point where one news report suggested it is as harmful as smoking, and just like smoking, the more you do it, the worse the effects. 

Studies over the last decade are consistently showing the deleterious effects of sitting.

We are learning that humans are clearly designed to be upright for long periods and to be highly mobile, and that this has real implications for modern desk-ridden man. The consequences of habitual sitting are far-reaching and seriously dangerous. According to Andrea LaCroix, PhD, director of the Women's Health Center of Excellence at the University of California, San Diego, 'sitting 'has been linked to cardiovascular events like heart attack, heart disease death, overall death, and death from cancer," as well as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hyperlipidemia, obesity, excess belly fat, and metabolic syndrome.

The prevailing theory is that when seated, the body naturally switches to a type of storage or conservation mode, which has the effect of slowing processes and eventually increasing dysfunction. This mode seems to shut off the circulation of a fat-absorbing enzyme called lipase. and causes muscles to burn less fat and blood to flow more sluggishly. Long term effects can be devastating.

Reports of health issues from sitting in clinical trials include:
  • Significant (50%) increase in risk of death

  • Significant (125%) increase in risk of cardiovascular events, such as angina or heart attack

  • Significant increase in muscular atrophy and even disability

  • Decrease in mental health

  • Increase (18%) in risk of death from diabetes, heart disease and obesity of people sitting 6 or more hours a day compared to those sitting three hours or less.

These are the initial observations, but researchers believe that the effects may be even more widespread. And the scariest part is not that it may be linked to so many health concerns, but according to research from the American Cancer Society, your exercise and fitness level have no impact on it. You can be highly active and still suffer if you sit eight hours a day, five days a week. Two hours a day of exercise will not undo the eight hours of sitting. To make it worse, sitting seems to increase appetite rather than reduce it. Despite needing less food for energy, people who sit more will consume more calories, leading directly to weight and fat gains.

That all sounds sufficiently scary. So what should we do?

Essentially, there are two ways to do something about this. As we discussed in the NEAT post, we need to fully embrace movement in the moment.  Anything you can do to get your heart pumping and blood moving in any amount as much as possible is the key. The British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that people who sit for prolonged periods have a higher risk of disease than those who move their muscles just periodically (i.e. NEAT.) Again, aerobic exercise is not enough for this issue. I don't want to rehash the previous post, which gives plenty of examples of embracing movement, so suffice it to say that you need to add as much NEAT as you can into your normal activities.

The beauty is these activities do not need to be vigorous. Just find ways of creating greater movement variety wherever you are. So if you are at work, take stairs, park a bit farther away from the building, spend lunch breaks doing something active and upright, stand for a meeting, or maybe even convince your colleagues to have meetings while walking around rather than at a conference table.

Secondly, and more obviously, we need to sit less. So in addition to embracing movement, we need to embrace standing. No matter your activity, stand as much as you can, whenever you can. Now I am not suggesting you take it to the extreme. Extended periods of standing can be equally problematic. The idea is to at very least, mix it up. If you are forced to sit for work, make sure to get up twice every hour for at least 5 minutes. Do it regularly.

Consider a stand up work bench if it is feasible. I am still not convinced it is reasonable to work a whole day standing up, but it is certainly at least better for you than a whole day sitting down. I have heard that the stand up desk is really starting to gain popularity in the corporate world. As testament to the growing awareness of this issue, you can now buy treadmill office desks. Go for it if you can. 

I would just be very careful about standing too much though, as some research suggests that if done improperly, it can be just as harmful. There are also known adverse effects from excessive standing, so it's about balance. Many who have tried a standing desk swear they will never go back to sitting. My personal approach is to set up an ergonomic desk with a stand up section that I use for 10 minutes every 30 minutes. (When I was young, I waited tables and standing for hours is no fun.) Find your own way. It will take some adjustment, but the benefits are worth it. 

It's a new century, we need a new paradigm.
 

What this serves to punctuate is that we need to adapt to the modern lifestyle. In order to remain in peak shape as well as peak function, we need strategies that consider our environment as well. So I think it's important to reinforce this subtle shift in approach. Not only will learning to love movement be of benefit to your body, but it will help sharpen your mental focus and discipline as you practice adding motion to every activity you can. I've been at it for a while now and I can assure you, it is very worth the effort on so many levels. Don't forget to let us know how you go about it in the comments below.

Related Posts: 
The Secret to Effective Weight Loss with NEAT
Cooking Up Healthy Weight Loss with Fat Burning Foods
Calorie Restriction is a Gulp from the Fountain of Youth 
Easier Weight Loss - Tips for Losing Weight Without Struggling

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The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.


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