Here is your question today: True or False: If you go to the gym for an hour five days a week, but otherwise sit at a desk job, the time at the gym makes up for a long day of sitting.

Many people think that they lead an active lifestyle because they go to the gym five days a week. I can hear a few of you – ‘If I could make it to the gym five days a week I would have it made’. If you are otherwise sedentary, sitting at a desk at work or during your leisure time, are you leading an active lifestyle? Let’s take a further look at this:

There are 168 hours in a week. If you are active 5 hours in a week (one hour, five days a week), then you are active 8.4% of the time and NOT active 91.6% of the time. Is 8.4% movement enough to offset the lack of calorie burn going on in 91.6% of non-movement time? The answer is unequivocally, NO!

Where we once linked the amount of time spent watching TV and its sedentary effects to obesity and chronic health conditions, we are now looking at the broader picture; the time collectively spent sitting at all activities. Driving to work, sitting at your desk, sitting at the computer in the evening and sitting during leisure time is taking a very large toll on your health. When we add up all this time collectively, Americans sit on average 9 hours a day.

In a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers reported that people spent an average of 64 hours a week sitting, whether or not they exercised each week. Unfortunately, it seems that outside of regularly scheduled exercise sessions, active people sit just as much as their couch-potato peers do. That’s more than nine hours a day of sitting, no matter how active they otherwise were.

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You may have seen the recent headlines “Sitting is the New Smoking.” This inspired by a very recent study published two months ago in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health which found that for those 60 and older, every additional hour a day spent sitting is linked to a doubling of the risk of disability, regardless of the amount of moderate exercise the person gets.

Take, for example, two 65-year-old women: one sedentary for 12 hours a day, the other for 13 hours. The second is 50 per cent more likely to be disabled. Though an hour difference may seem insignificant, it is significant!

sitting new smoking

We see this same affect with sleep, replicated across many well performed studies, where the difference between getting 6 hours of sleep versus 7 hours of sleep can mean the difference between weight gain, obesity and inflammation. Think about what a profound difference an extra hour of movement and an extra hour sleep every day could do for your health.

Based on a study of more than 220,000 residents in New South Wales, researchers found that the longer you spend sitting down every day, the higher the risk of dying prematurely, even if you engage in regular daily exercise. This point needs to be driven home time and time again – even if you exercise regularly, if you are otherwise sedentary, you are at risk. The answer to today’s question is false; working out daily will not make up for a long day of sitting.

Another study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that adults who sat for more than 11 hours a day had a 40 percent increased risk of dying within 3 years– from any cause– compared with those who sat for less than 4 hours a day. In addition, the chances of dying were 15 percent higher for those who sat 8-11 hours a day (which is right at the American average). The researchers found that sitting was associated with a higher death risk after controlling for factors including age, gender, smoking status, education, body mass index, as well as living in an urban or city environment AND even physical activity. It doesn’t matter how active you are at the gym, or if you run nightly, if you otherwise sit at a desk job you are just as much at risk!

This study has been replicated – In a 12-year study of over 17,000 Canadians, researchers found that the more time people spent sitting, the earlier they died – regardless of age, bodyweight, or how much they exercised.

2013 survey of nearly 30,000 women found that those who sat for nine or more hours a day were more likely to be depressed than those who sat for less than six, because prolonged sitting reduces circulation and affects hormone production – causing fewer feel-good hormones to reach your brain.

Okay – we have it – the studies are there. Why does sitting have such a profound effect? Simply put, your body is designed to move. Sitting for an extended period causes your body to shut down at the metabolic level. When your muscles, especially certain leg muscles (which are the largest muscles in your body) are immobile, your circulation slows and so does your metabolism. You have a hard time efficiently processing blood sugar and you burn less fat, which increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes. The American Institute of Cancer Research now links prolonged sitting to increased cancer risk in the top five cancers.

Here is Your Active Lifestyle Action Plan

  1. Your first goal is to become aware of your current habits by using a pedometer or a Fitbit to track your steps.
  2. Do not track your steps while you are working out. The goal is to be active across the day independent of your scheduled workouts.
  3. Set a reminder to get up from your desk every hour for five minutes.
  4. Walk for 10 minutes or more at lunch

It is important to note – if you find that you are stepping 6K or 8K steps a day, independent of your scheduled workouts, WHEN are you getting these steps in. Remember that prolonged sitting is the issue. If you are jamming all these steps in during your time off after work, but you are otherwise sitting 8 hours at work, you are still going to be at risk.

The goal is to be active across the day….

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