Smoking. Drinking. Drug use. Eating McDonald’s every day. Those are probably some of the things that pop into your mind when you think of unhealthy behaviors. Let’s throw another unhealthy behavior into the mix—sitting. Surprised? As you are innocently sitting in your chair at work, sitting on your couch to watch TV, or sitting in class, you are actually participating in an “activity” that is detrimental to your health. Why, you ask? Let’s flashback to our ancestors for a bit.
Our ancestors–cavemen and cavewomen–were an extremely active species. Why? They had to be. In order to hunt food, drag the food back to camp, find shelter, and run from predators such as the saber tooth tiger, our ancestors had to be constantly moving. Not only were they constantly moving, but they were moving at all speeds. From meandering around and gathering nuts and berries, to sprinting away from a predator, they were constantly and unknowingly giving themselves an interval workout. Our ancestors needed to move to survive, and thus the human species evolved into a walking, running, and sprinting machine. Simply put–we were made to move.
Fast forward. What does your typical day consist of, from start to finish? You wake up, get dressed, and sit down at your desk or kitchen table to eat breakfast. You walk to class. You sit in class for over an hour. You walk to your next class and sit again for over an hour. You walk to your third and last class and sit there for another hour. Finally, exhausted from almost 5 hours of lecturing, you walk back to your apartment or dorm and you collapse on your bed or in front of the TV. You eventually drag yourself away from Netflix and walk to dinner. You sit down to eat dinner. Do you see a common theme here? Wherever you are, it seems you are sitting, sitting, sitting. Maybe you aren’t a student anymore. Well, apply this to your work day. How many hours a day do you think you spend sitting at your desk?
There was only one time throughout the year that our ancestors were as inactive as we are as a species today–in the winter. When everything froze over, there was no prey to be found and it was too cold for our ancestors to be outside. So, they hibernated. In order to survive the winter, our ancestors started to store fat to use as fuel, as energy. It was during this time that our ancestors became a little heavier. However, once spring came, they were back out in the wilderness, gathering, hunting, and sprinting for their lives. And just as soon as the fat packed on, it shed right off. With all the sitting we do nowadays, it is like we are living in winter constantly–spring never really comes for us. The average American citizen spends at least 7.7 hours (55%) of his or her waking hours sitting down. An American Cancer Society study found that women who sit more than 6 hours a day are 94% more likely to die within in a certain time period than women who sat less than 3 hours a day in that same time period. For me, the increased likelihood is 48%.
This brings us to the idea of an active workstation. You have to go to class. You have to go to work. But do you have to sit the entire time you are there? The answer is no. There are many ways in which you can bring more activity into each day. For those in an office, try a standing desk. In a Take-a-Stand Project, employees who increased their non-sitting time by one hour each day experienced the following effects:
- increased energy
- increased comfort
- increased ability to focus
- a decrease in fatigue
- an increase in productivity
- decreases in neck, shoulder, and upper back pain
- healthier overall
Standing desks are not feasible for everyone, but that does not mean that activity cannot be incorporated into your day. Make it a point to remind yourself to get moving for a couple minutes every hour. This movement can be anything from walking around the office, to doing some squats or push ups while you wait for your coffee to be ready. Students, you can and should bring more activity into your day as well. Instead of sitting in an uncomfortable desk for three classes in a row, stand in the back of the classroom while you take your notes. You will be surprised at how much more alert you feel. Bottom line: make it a point to be more active throughout the day. Activity is not only defined by going to the gym. Simply standing instead of sitting can do the trick. Here is your challenge: Take a stand for your health.