The sitting disease

Is sitting the new smoking? Kim Potgieter shares insights from a recent Runner’s World article.

I love to exercise and really look forward to my four gym sessions a week.  My regime consists of cardio and resistance exercises, and in my opinion I’m above average fit.  The current bee in my bonnet as far as exercise is concerned (there are always a few buzzing around in there) is to run a marathon, which is why I’ve taken to reading running magazines.  In the October issue of Runner’s World I came across an article about the health risks of our sitting lifestyles.

The research emerging has revealed some terrifying stats.  In fact, the results are so scary it’s being called the “sitting disease”.  But there’s no avoiding sitting, is there?  When we’re not desk-bound or glued to a screen of some sort, we’re in a car on our way to somewhere.  But we compensate for our crazy city lifestyles by going to gym, attending a yoga class, or playing a game of golf a few times a week.  Those of us who are conscious about our health try our best to get the recommended exercise quota each week, but even then, it’s not enough.

Unfortunately for us gym bunnies, outside of our exercise regimes we’re sitting as much as our couch-potato peers.  We’re “active couch potatoes”, according to Australian university researcher Genevieve Healy, PhD.  Here are some of the numbers being thrown around… for every 2 hours a woman sits during a work day her risk of developing diabetes goes up by 7 per cent.  This equates to 56 per cent on days when they sit for 8 hours.  A man who sits for more than 6 hours a day increases his risk of dying from heart disease by 18 per cent, and his chance of dying from diabetes by 7.8 per cent, compared with someone who sits for 3 hours or less a day.  While there is no doubt about the benefits of getting at least some exercise in, if you spend the rest of the time sitting, the benefits dwindle.

“There’s no running away from it:  the more you sit, the poorer your health and the earlier you may die, no matter how fit you are.”  Runner’s World, October 2013

If you are retired and not necessarily bound to a desk or a car, I would encourage you to monitor how many hours you spend immobile.  According to research published in The Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, people on average, spend 64 hours a week sitting, 28 hours standing and 11 hours milling about (non-exercise walking).

And as far as the smoking comparison goes, Travis Saunders, a PhD student and certified exercise physiologist, says, “Smoking is bad for you even if you get lots of exercise.  So is sitting too much.”

The bottom line is that our bodies are designed less to stand and more to move.  So this month, let’s consciously try to increase our moving hours, and decrease our sitting time.

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