Let’s face it, modern times often means a work day that requires us at the desk for eight hours. Then it’s sometimes followed by a couch potato-like relaxation in front of the television. Unfortunately, that type of sedentary lifestyle is associated with increased risks of chronic conditions which shorten life expectancy. That is as much a public health concern as the threats of smoking and obesity.
But there’s hope yet. Medical scientists say that exercising daily can help counter the negative health effects of sitting at the desk.
For one, a University of Leicester study concluded that adults who engaged in at least 150 minutes of physical activity had healthier profiles than those who were inactive. What’s more, the study showed that being physically active “offset some of the deleterious consequences of a routinely sedentary lifestyle.”
Then, too, according to a recently published article on the international weekly medical journal, The Lancet, “High levels of moderate intensity physical activity (i.e. about 60 – 75 min per day) seem to eliminate the increased risk of death associated with high sitting time.” This was confirmed further by Ulf Ekelund, the Senior Investigator Scientist in the Physical Activity Programme, and Professor in Physical Activity and Health at the Department of Sport Medicine for the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences.
“We found that at least one hour of physical activity per day, for example brisk walking or bike cycling, eliminates the association between sitting time and death,” Ekelund explained. He advised on a brisk walk, with a speed of just over three miles per hour, to help negate the side effects of sedentary habits.
Ekelund continued, “It’s OK doing some brisk walking, maybe in the morning, during lunchtime, after dinner in the evening. You can split it up over the day, but you need to do at least one hour.”
Similarly, when a study group of 500,000 television viewers were observed, it was discovered that though they would spend three hours of viewing per day, those who exercised at least an hour a day were able to reverse the damage from prolonged sitting.
It is believed that physical activity assists in the body’s metabolism and in the circulation of the hormone leptin. WebMD describes leptin as regulatory protein that tells your body how to store fat. Leptin interacts with receptors in the brain that help in the control of hunger. If leptin levels are skewed, as they are in those who have a sedentary lifestyle, then health risks rise.
Public fitness levels are of great concern, especially in the work force. Government policies are in need of change to encourage healthier habits that build physical activity into one’s everyday life. It is likewise advisable for office culture to change so that employees develop more activity.
Here are some ideas on how to incorporate more activity into your everyday life so that negative side effects of prolonged sitting are counteracted:
Hear more from The Lancet about the dangers of physical inactivity in this podcast here.
Of course, if you have a tight schedule at work or if you have a manager who wants to see you at your desk, try these yoga exercise recommendations from the Harvard Business Review‘s article “6 Yoga Exercises You Won’t be Embarrassed to Do at Your Desk,” by clicking here. And remember, you still have to put in at least an hour’s worth of brisk walking or physical activity outside of work to improve your health.