Updated: Jul 21, 2021
Despite what we currently see around us, the REAL pandemic of industrialised worlds is the sedentary behaviour. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), physical inactivity is the fourth most prominent risk factor for global mortality responsible for approximately 6% of all premature deaths. It is not just the sitting per se. It is the fact that while sitting, we tend to eat more, drink more alcohol, consume more visual entertainment, more news (mostly a source of great stress these days) and prefer activities that require very little effort—for example, ordering junk instead of cooking.
WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENS WHEN WE SIT FOR PROLONGED PERIODS OF TIME?
Human skeletal muscles (the ones we can control voluntarily) are a highly metabolically active tissue. They help us regulate our blood sugar, and they keep our metabolism running at the optimal level. When we sit for too long, this metabolic core becomes stagnant; blood sugar gets a little bit out of control, we start feeling tired and sluggish.
Secondly, being sedentary reduces our daily metabolic rate (the number of calories burned per day). This means we burn fewer calories and store more as fat in the body. It is well known that unhealthy (non-lean mass) weight gain contributes to a variety of problems such as increased heart rate, blood pressure and poor blood sugar control.
The problem with acquiring more fat tissue is that this is NOT an idle tissue. It doesn’t just sit there. Fat is very highly metabolically active. All fat cells produce a variety of inflammatory molecules and hormones of their own that interact with our hormones. This is why being obese is so dangerous. It is not just the sheer mass per se but the fact that the body of an obese person is locked in a chronic state of high-grade inflammation that slowly destroys the body from the inside.
And finally, prolonged sitting negatively impacts our brain health and our cognitive performance. Lack of physical activity reduces the production of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). BDNF is an essential architect of our brain plasticity, helping us improve memory and brainpower. (I will discuss BDNF in another blog post, so stay tuned 😊)
WELLBEING & OVERALL QUALITY OF LIFE
A large national study in Spain looked at the quality of health of 21,200 students. Students self-recorded their activity levels as well as their self-perceived quality of life and health. What researchers found was an exponential increase in good health and wellbeing parallel with their activity level. Some interesting findings of this study:
· Exercising just twice a week reduced the risk of having any health complains nearly by double
· Exercising 1-2 a week doubled self-perceived overall satisfaction with life
· Being active 5-6 times a week produced 460% increase in self-perceived health quality compared to students who were mostly inactive.
· All these effects were more profound in men but very significant in women as well.
Cardiometabolic health indicates the risk of developing diabetes, stroke or heart disease. It includes metabolic markers such as blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides (fats), BMI, weight-management, obesity risk, heart rate and blood pressure. Prolonged sitting has been found to:
reduce “good” HDL cholesterol
increase “bad” LDL cholesterol
damage blood sugar balance
increase risk of developing clots, thrombosis, stroke and heart disease in the elderly.
naturally, people engaging more in sedentary behaviour are statistically more overweight and experience poorer health. They also tend to take more medication for cardiometabolic health control.
Prolonged sitting creates a vicious cycle for people suffering from a mental health problem such as depression. This is because depressed people naturally may be less active because their moods tend to sink very low at times. It has been found that depressed people spend more time sitting, watching tv and browsing the internet, which further exacerbates their depression. This leads to making poor health choices such as ordering a lot of takeaways, getting hooked on television shows, becoming tired and sleepy. This then leads to damaged sleep, and when sleep becomes broken for a prolonged period of time, mental health as well as metabolic health, suffer greatly. Prolonged sitting and watching television often leads to increased levels of stress hormones which cause psychological distress. TV becomes an escape from this unpleasant, stressful experience only to be multiplied once the entertainment has ended.
Cognitive performance indicates the efficiency of learning, thinking, reasoning, remembering, problem-solving, decision making, and attention. Measuring cognitive performance can tell whether the person (especially the elderly) is slowly developing a form of cognitive impairment such as dementia. However, cognitive decline is also common in young, and it appears that lifestyle & diet play a significant role in this.
Excessive sedentary behaviour was associated with decreased verbal memory and decreased executive function. In elderly, this problem becomes even greater because they spend much more time sitting. One study stated: “There is now enough evidence to consider sedentary behaviour a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia.”
In men, prolonged sitting (over 7 hours/day) increases the chance of experiencing prostate problems (such as prostate growth) later in life. A non-cancerous growth of the prostate (BPH – benign prostatic hyperplasia) is however, a multifactorial condition which means it also largely depends on a person’s diet, lifestyle, habits, stress and much more.
Sedentary lifestyle (> 60hrs a week) may lead to insomnia in some people. Markers of sleep quality are worse in people who spend the most time sitting. There are a few reasons for this:
Sedentary behaviour often leads to eating unhealthy food. This can cause nutritional deficiencies which can lead to sleep disturbances
Being sedentary and spending a lot of time looking at screens exposes the person to the blue-light of the monitor which has been found to block the production of melatonin, the hormone of sleep.
As previously discussed, spending more time looking at screens generally increases self-perceived levels of stress which interferes with sleep.
It is however likely, that sitting while reading a book or journaling may in fact improve quality of sleep. Likewise sitting to meditate will definitely improve sleep quality.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Short-term periods of sitting are not harmful as long as they are followed by a quick session of stretching, a short walk around the house or just some sort of active motion.
Out of every hour working, spend 50 minutes sitting and 10 minutes performing a light physical activity. This may be light yoga or just a dynamic stretching, going for a walk, moving into the kitchen and making a fruit bowl or a tea (while the tea boils, perform10 burpees in the kitchen 😉) as long as you don’t sit but stand during this period of time, that’s what matters. Or you can perform a quick burst of 100 high knees followed by 100-star jumps, then stretch a bit and carry on sitting.
This is an incredible invention. Manually adjustable desks may cost between 150-300 pounds/euros, but the investment is very much worth having the backpain gone and replacing passive sitting with active standing. Thirty minutes sitting followed by 30 minutes standing is a good routine once you get one. You may also improvise by using a piece of furniture. I like to put my laptop on a chest of drawers which is fairly high to be a standing desk.
90 MINUTES OUT AND ABOUT
This is a strategy that forces you to spend 90 minutes per day outside of your home. Every time you go outside, you will track your time. You may split it into 3 short walks or a quick run in the morning and a walk in the evening or you may decide to do it all in one go. The aim is to be mobile. Sitting down for coffee does not count although walking with coffee does 😊. Exercising, rope skipping, yoga outside or any other form of exercise counts. You can experiment with more time if 90 minutes seem to easy.
Basic and self-explanatory. Aim to perform 10,000 – 12,000 steps per day. A sports watch that count your step and remind you when you sit too much can be helpful as well.
TAKE YOUR MEETINGS OUTSIDE
Regardless of the environment, you can probably take at least 1/3 of your meetings outside. Very often, you may be a silent participant, and other times maybe you just can’t be bothered to pay attention. If you have a company phone or your own phone with unlimited minutes, most platforms like Zoom or Teams allow you to join via phone number. If you have a lot of data, use those to join.
Yes, I know, sometimes you just HAVE TO be there in front of PC. But there will be times when you don’t, so make the most of those occurrences. Or at least stand while being on the meeting. If you don’t have to be on camera, you can at least pace around in your room. Sometimes I like to do pushups or lunges while listening to meetings where I’m not required to speak
FIND A HOBBY THAT DOES NOT BIND YOU TO A CHAIR
Photography, stargazing, video-blogging, shadow boxing, birdwatching, “reading” audiobooks while walking, collecting herbs, drawing in nature, roller-skating, table tennis, and many other creative forms of hobbies often force you to leave your home or at least to keep active and moving. Finding one that does not require a lot of sitting can definitely help.
In the end, it does not really matter what sort of strategy or technique you prefer. You don’t have to measure or track anything. Just try to find an opportunity to get up and be mobile a bit. Get the blood and the lymph flowing. Even when it rains, there is always something that can be done. Make the most of every day and don’t forget to have fun 😊 Moving should always have an element of enjoyment. If you hate running, dance. If you suck at dancing, get a used bike. If you are not a sports person, invest in an adjustable standing desk or start listening to a podcast on your daily walks.
Don’t forget to be kind to yourself. When you feel like you are not achieving your goals, always look back at the journey you have already walked to get here. Take a moment to appreciate it.
Michal - Andro Health Nutrition
FOLLOW ANDRO HEALTH
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