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It’s been a while since we’ve devoted a blog post to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, particularly the amount of time we spend sitting each day. Our last post on this topic can be found here
 
Interestingly, when we mention this to people, they always seem to focus on one particular aspect of their lives; the time spent at work – school or college – rather than their lives as a whole. While this may account for quite a chunk of time each day, it’s not the complete picture. What about all those other times during the day we’re sat down? Travelling. Eating. Relaxing at home, whether in front of the “one eyed monster” or on our favourite device. 
 
 
Once you start to tot it all up, you’ll be surprised just how much time it accounts for every day. And, if you want a figure to get you thinking, it’s estimated that the average American spends around 13 hours a day sitting. Once you’ve factored in 8 hours sleeping, that leaves very little for any sort of activity. So, if you think this doesn’t apply to you, think again! 
 
And here’s something else that may surprise you. It’s now being suggested that prolonged sitting is on a par with smoking – whether conventional cigarettes or e cigarettes – as far as the risk it poses to health. And you may like to read that sentence over several times and let it sink in… 
 
Why is this? 
 
Well, as often is the case, one small change leads to many others. These then gain momentum leading to unanticipated effects, both in the short term and long term. 
 
In the short term these include raised blood sugar and cholesterol, which are quite understandable as less “fuel” is needed when we’re sedentary. Longer term, sitting is being linked to an increased risk of many chronic diseases including Heart Disease, Obesity and Type II Diabetes. And here’s one you may not have thought of, reduced bone density, such as Osteoporosis. Again, the reason is quite simple. Over the long term the amount – and type – of day to day activity influences bone structure and density. 
 
So, there are no prizes for guessing where we’re going with this. And, “no” we’re not suggesting you adopt an intensive – and possible time consuming – exercise schedule on top of everything else you do every day. Phew! 
 
The first and most important thing is to be aware of how much time you’re sitting each day. And this, on its own, may be the wake up call you need. As with all routines and habits, it becomes invisible to us, so we’re not aware of them anymore. 
 
Just as it’s important for our eyes to take time away from computer screens regularly during the day, so is getting up and getting active. Multiple benefits from one thing, hurrah! 
 
Walking to get something, to talk to someone. Doing a task standing that would otherwise be done sitting. We get so used to doing things in one particular way, ie, sitting that we forget there are many ways of achieving the same thing. It’s just a case of having to remember to do so… 
 
The rule of thumb is to avoid sitting for more than 50 minutes in an hour and, if you really do have to sit for a longer period of time, to limit this to a maximum of 3 hours. 
 
And let’s quickly mention standing desks here. While there are benefits to them, in terms of avoiding sitting down for long periods of time, there are other things to be aware of too. The obvious one is posture, in other words making sure you maintain a good posture while using them. Not “resting” one leg or leaning on the desk. Bad posture is bad posture, regardless of whether you’re sitting or standing. The other is that prolonged periods of standing still also have their downsides, activity is what our bodies were designed for, not for remaining in a fixed posture for long periods of time. For many people using them as an alternative to sitting for short periods of time works best, rather than all the time. 
 
Which brings us on to the best antidote for sitting. To be naturally active throughout the day. Walking rather than parking as close to our destination as we can (!). Using the stairs rather than the lift. Relying a little less on all those labour saving devices, many of which really don’t make our lives any easier. We’re sure you’ve come across plenty of these (!). 
 
And, finally, that brings us on to taking regular exercise. We all have our own particularly unique reasons why we don’t take regular exercise. Many of these date back to the dreaded sports lessons at school or seeing it as something we have to do, rather than want to do. It’s something we’re talked about before and can be found here
 
As we’ve said before, it’s simply a case of finding an exercise we enjoy doing – and, yes, there really is at least one for all of us (!) – and remembering that it doesn’t have to be anything too scary. Or considered as being “sporty.” It just needs to be something that gets us moving enough to raise our heart rate and breathing BUT where we can still carry on a conversation while doing it. Slightly winded, in other words. Brisk walking, cycling, swimming, jogging, dancing – and there are so many different forms to choose from these days – even golf, gardening and, dare we say it, the dreaded housework (!). So long as they get you moving, they’re all good and health enhancing. 
 
If you’re more sporty - particularly if you enjoy very competitive, intense or high impact sports - one word of warning. One of the reasons these sports are so enjoyable is the stress they put on the body and the adrenaline – and endorphins – released as a result. The “high” that comes from doing them. While this can improve performance, it also puts the body under a huge amount of strain and, as with any adrenaline fuelled response, burns up huge amounts of resources in the process. If you enjoy these sports, great, but do remember that sufficient rest time should be left between sessions to let the body recuperate, both physically and mentally. 
 
As always, the choice is yours. 
 
 
 
Picture by unknown author 
 
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