Like everything in life, there’s always 2 sides to a story…and the case of modern life (in this country at least) is no different. The advancement in our quality of life afforded by all of the incredible machines, technology, and products we’ve invented in the last 100 years is astounding, with many positive aspects to all of it. However, the other side of the story is that with all of this brilliant machinery and gadgetry that do so many thing for us, we have “evolved” to what I believe is a tipping point of diminishing returns. What I mean by that is that now that we have so much at our fingertips and can get so much accomplished in our daily lives with very little physical effort – from single click online ordering of just about anything, to homes that turn on / off and open / close by simply voicing it, even automatic car doors – we have become downright LAZY!
This is perhaps most evident by the amount of time the modern American (at any age) spends sitting. The average American is now sedentary 11-12 hours / day! And the average office worker 15 hrs / day! Compared to 1950, the prevalence of sedentary jobs has increased 83%, according to the American Heart Association, and computers have had a lot to do with it. Most Americans 16 years and older spend at least 50% of their “free” time on computers or other electronic devices. And it doesn’t appear to be getting better – just in the last decade, this has increased by 1 hour / day.
The health hazards of sitting are becoming well known and documented, as shown in this 2014 Washington Post article. It is now contributing $24 billion a year to treating medical conditions such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, & cardiovascular disease, plus increases in certain types of cancers like colon, breast, and endometrial. Not to mention early death – if one sits for 4 or more hours / day, they have a 50% greater risk of death. Every hour of sitting slashes 22 minutes off of your life expectancy! “OUCH!” (I’m thinking as I sit here writing this on my laptop…ok, now I’m standing)
So, what can be done to combat “Sitting Disease,” as it’s now called? Well, the easy answer is: DON’T SIT! Thanks, Captain Obvious! But what if you have a job that requires it, like some of our very own support staff who have to be in front of computers at the front desk all day long…? Or what if you’re a delivery driver and sit in a car or truck all day? You can’t just quit your job (…or can you…)? The way I like to think about it, and talk to my patients about it, is that it’s like a bank account, or credit card. Sitting or being sedentary is like making a withdrawal on your bank account, or making a purchase on your credit card. By contrast, moving, exercising, or doing something physical is like making a deposit, or a payment. Eventually, the account has to be balanced, right? You can only make so many withdrawals or purchases before you have to make a deposit or a payment. If you’re not balancing the account, you may be able to get away with it for a while, but eventually that “interest” is going to add up and you’re going owe a lot more than you spent! This is pretty much what happens to your physical body – muscles, tendons, joints & ligaments, nerves, heart & blood vessels – all of it. The longer you deplete the “account,” the more damage you do and the more costly the repair is (if that is even an option) down the line.
Bottom line: DON’T PUT IT OFF! DON’T DENY IT! DON’T IGNORE IT! You must find a way to add physical activity into your life, EVERY DAY! If you’re not a gym person or hate working out, then find something you enjoy and make it more physical. If you like yard / garden work, instead of renting / buying a machine to till the garden or blow the leaves, get a good hand tool or a rake and do it the old fashioned way. Just be sure to allow yourself the extra time to get the job done (remember, it’s your “workout”); or if you like walking but don’t have a safe place to do it, then find a safe place in your community and make an agreement with yourself that you MUST go walking there before you’re allowed your T.V. or internet time. Do a lap or 2 around the grocery store or huge box store before you do your shopping. Of find a way to walk or ride your bike to work 1 or 2 days a week. In all areas of your life, instead of trying to find the easiest or fastest way to do something, find the way that makes you work a bit. Second, whatever the activity, try to find a friend / buddy / partner – research shows again & again that compliance and long-term staying power with an exercise routine or activity goes way up when you have someone or a group to do it with. Lastly, try keeping a log or journal – research also shows that if you have a consistent way of measuring, tracking, and/or recording your physical activity you’re much more likely to see your progress & continue the activity.