Modern lifestyle comes with many conveniences. Advanced technology has changed all areas of our life including how we transport, communicate, work, and entertain. Unfortunately along with convenience and technology, our modern life also supports an environment that has a reduced demand for physical activity, in comparison to the past.
Think of the lifestyle of an average adult in today’s world;
- We sit while commuting to and from work/school,
- Spend hours sitting at work /school and
- Then come home and relax in front of the TV, computer or cell phone screen.
If this sounds like you, you may need to be concerned. Our lifestyles have become increasingly sedentary. This means that majority of the day is spent sitting. Prolonged sitting affects our body in 2 major ways
- Low energy output, leading to more weight gain
- Reduced usage of muscles, leading to muscle unloading or a decrease in total muscle mass
Research has shown that prolonged sitting periods are associated with obesity and other chronic diseases such as heart problems, diabetes, and some cancers. There is also research linking prolonged sitting to premature death.
Too much sitting isn’t the same as too little exercise
A person can be considered physically active, if they meet the recommended amount of daily physical activity, which is 200 to 300 minutes of moderate activity per week. However if you spend the rest of the day mostly sitting, there will be negative consequences.
The body reacts differently to prolonged sitting, and too little exercise. So the impacts of sitting are independent to the impact of exercising. Although exercise is important in reducing risks of chronic diseases on its own and is important for overall health, prolonged sitting has to be considered independently. To be healthy it’s important that you meet both your daily physical activity recommendations, in addition to spending less time sitting.
The Active Couch Potato
In the past TV was the most common form of screen time, however now we now have computer and cell phone screens to worry about as well. Many studies have been conducted to see the effects of television on health. A study conducted in Australia (published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2013), revealed that spending more time watching TV was linked with abnormal glucose metabolism, which can contribute to or affect chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, and is associated with other health conditions as well. The study also revealed that spending 4 hours or more per day had the highest effects on glucose metabolism.
This is very concerning as we easily spend more than 4 hours staring at our TV, computer, or cell phone screens. The results obtained from the study were independent from the total amount of exercise the participants received, or how much they initially weighed. In addition to this they also found that increasing TV viewing time over the years was associated with changes to blood pressure, heart issues, and increased waist circumference.
Lastly, they also discovered that women were more likely to experience these risks in comparison to men. Although we don’t know exactly why this occurs, some hypotheses are that it may be due to the fact that women tend to store more fat than men, or may be linked to the types of snacks women choose to consume.
Be Watchful of Snacking while Sitting!
This is especially important when we look at sedentary behaviors such as watching TV or playing video games. Studies show that people tend to consume more snacks while watching TV, and that most of these snacks tend to be high in calories but low in nutrients.
To prevent this try not to eat mindlessly. Be more aware of the types of snacks you consume, and the quantity that you are consuming.
Here are some of the things you could do:
- Remove foods near the eye-level where you sit, the more you see the foods the more you will tend to want it.
- Don’t eat directly from the bag. Eating chips, candies, or other snacks from a bowl rather than eating straight from the packet will help you become aware of your intake, and can help you set portions to ensure you don’t over eat.
- Try out fun, healthy snack recipes. Replace the buttered popcorn with your making your own kettle popcorn at home to take control of the butter and salt added.
- Try to avoid snacking or eating in front of the television- all together. If you’re hungry eat before you start, or take a break to eat in silence or talk with your family and friends.
Things You Can Do Right Now
to Prevent the Negative Effects of Prolonged Sitting:
Decrease total time spent sitting
You can replace the time you spend sitting with light intensity physical activity, like slowly walking, or by simply standing up instead. Standing is better for the body than sitting because the muscles in your body have to work against gravity to maintain the standing posture, reducing muscle loss.
- Strategically place your treadmill in front of your TV so you can exercise and enjoy your shows at the same time
- Find active forms for entertainment. Instead of spending hours staring at a screen, explore your neighbourhood, or go hiking with your friends.
- Use a fitness ball as your chair so you can work your muscles, trying to maintain your balance, without realizing it.
- Use stairs as often as possible. If you have to get up in the middle of a show to use the bathroom, use the bathroom on the other floor instead.
- Stand or walk while chatting with friends on the phone or while using social media.
Take more breaks from sitting
Taking frequent breaks from sitting is associated with lower BMI, and waist circumference. Try to take 5-10 minute breaks to walk or stand for every hour or two you spend sitting.
Steps you can take:
- Walk for 5 minutes every couple of hours at work if you work in an office setting.
- Take longer routes to the bathroom.
- Take breaks while you watch TV. Use the commercials or set a timer to remind you to move every 60 minutes. An example is to get up and take 200-300 steps for every hour.
- Invest in a step-counter. Checkout the tools and resources I recommend for living a healthy lifestyle at Recommended Resources
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Please share the strategies you use or will start using today!
Hamilton MT, Healy GN, Dunstan DW, Zderic TW, Owen N. Too little exercise and too much sitting: Inactivity physiology and the need for new recommendations on sedentary behavior. Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports. 2008;2:292–8. Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3419586/pdf/nihms182380.pdf
Owen N, Healy GN, Matthews CE, Dunstan DW. Too Much Sitting. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews. 2010;38:105–13. Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404815/
Thorp AA, Mcnaughton SA, Owen N, Dunstan DW. Independent and joint associations of TV viewing time and snack food consumption with the metabolic syndrome and its components; a cross-sectional study in Australian adults. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2013;10:96. Link: http://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1479-5868-10-96