Don't Fight the Bulge Sitting Down
How’s your fitness level? I thought mine was pretty good. Then a few weeks back some shocking studies came out about the detrimental effects of sitting. I don’t remember the exact details but I think the bottom line was that all of us exercisers are going to end up dying just as early as we would if we’d never exercised at all if we don’t stop sitting around so much.
According to these studies, because I sit for a good portion of my day, it’s a wonder I’m still alive. It turns out that all of the sitting I’ve been doing can undo all the benefits of exercise. My chair is my enemy.
These recent studies have found that even if you exercise for an hour a day, if you sit for most of the rest of the day, your risk for many age-related illnesses skyrockets. And furthermore, that if you sit a lot, you’re likely to be as fat as you’d be if you didn’t exercise at all.
Now I’m still not convinced that the state of my health is all that bad. It’s not like I’m lazy -- between cycling classes and yoga and intervals and laundry and rolling on the floor with my dog. But according to these studies there is a “physiology of inactivity” that when you sit for long periods your body stops producing as much of a molecule called lipoprotein lipase which plays a key role in how your body processes fats. And when we have less lipoprotein (you’d better sit down for this) we not only get fat, but we tend to get muffin-top fat- gaining around the waist. Ugh.
The good news is that just by standing, which forces muscles of the legs to contract, you can keep your metabolism revved up. Scientists studied active men (who walked as average of 10,000 steps a day, measured by a pedometer) and asked them to cut back to 1,350 steps a day by basically being lazy -- taking the elevator, driving instead of walking, etc. And in two short weeks all the men became worse at metabolizing sugars and fats and they all gained weight around the middle.
Don’t panic, though. The study found that just by taking frequent breaks -- standing and stretching, or walking a few steps -- those same men had smaller waists and better sugar and fat profiles than those who sat uninterrupted.
What to do? Besides getting a high desk and standing while doing desk work, or putting a treadmill in your living that powers the TV? A more realistic option is to watch TV in a rocking chair. Rocking takes energy and involves a continuous gentle flexing of the calves, which is enough action to stave off lipoprotein suppression. You could also sit at your computer on a big physio ball which also uses muscles to support your back and keep from falling off. I would also recommend getting a pedometer and challenging yourself to walk 2000 more steps (which equals one mile) each day.
The one thing I can’t help but notice as an aging fitness boomer is that even with vigorous gym-goers, weight gain is stealthy and surreptitious --two pounds per year can leave us flabbergasted by the time the next class reunion rolls around. And we WILL all gain two to three pounds each year if we eat just 30 more calories per day than we burn. Thirty calories is a pittance. It’s about 4 potato chips, or a swig of Gatorade or two Lifesavers. These small bites of food can add up to morphing from a 125 pound 30 year old to being 25 pounds overweight by the time we are 50 years old. It’s that darn butterfly effect of small changes making a difference over time. Not good.
You might not think you will be able to change how much you sit, but think about it -- if you sleep eight hours a day and exercise for one hour per day, that leaves fifteen hours in which you can make small changes that cumulatively add up to winning the battle of the bulge.
Thanks to technology you might consider taking a walk while you take that conference call or moving around while you chat on the phone or text. Even sitting on a physio ball instead of a chair will engage many of your “load-tone” muscles—the muscles that have to engage in order to keep you from tumbling off onto the floor.
You heard me. Now stand up and get moving!
Penny Love Hoff is a health/ lifestyle/fitness coach, with two hip replacements who has over 25 years of experience, teaching exercise classes and inspiring aging athletes who want to get their active lifestyle back. She believes we can all stay younger for longer by taking charge of our own health and fitness issues which limit us.