We generally think that if we run, walk or exercise at the gym for 30-60 minutes, we have met the recommended physical activity guidelines and protected our health, right? Inactivity researchers like Dr. Marc Hamilton call this person an “active couch potato.” When you think about an adult who sleeps 8 hours and exercises for one, what are they doing the remaining 15 hours per day? On average, about 10 hours are spent sitting which Hamilton has referred to as “the new smoking” since it can lead to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and a premature death. Sitting has become the number one “daily activity” as more time is spent sitting in front of an electronic screen than on anything else. Studies strongly suggest that the unhealthy effects of sitting are completely independent of whether or not a person exercises. Don’t lose heart; the solution seems to be to just move more throughout the day.
The research findings are showing unique health consequences of “too much sitting” that are distinct and different from “too little exercise”. Some of the first studies in the 1950’s saw higher rates of cardiovascular events with sedentary English bus drivers and mail sorters compared to more active bus conductors and postal workers. The same correlation was observed between sedentary and active railroad workers in the United States .
Since the beginning of the 21st century, researchers have been studying the effects sedentary time is having on the development of cardiovascular and metabolic disease. Its been observed that the longer people sit, the larger their waist lines expand along with elevated blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides, and the lower the protective HDL-cholesterol becomes, even when the subjects exercised.
Metabolic studies have seen dramatically reduced levels of a fat-vacuuming enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL). Its function is to grab fat out of the bloodstream and deliver it to active muscles to burn for fuel. Low levels of this enzyme contribute to a variety of health problems, including heart disease. LPL is just one molecule affected by muscular inactivity. Muscles that actively contract produce a suite of substances that have a beneficial effect on how the body uses and stores sugars and fats .
This may help explain another study’s results that included men who normally walk a lot (about 10,000 steps per day) but were asked to reduce their steps to about 1,350 per day for two weeks. They used the elevator versus stairs, drove to work versus walked, and so on. By the end of the two weeks, their metabolic capabilities worsened. The men’s ability to metabolize sugar and fat was hindered. They gained weight around their mid-section which is linked to diabetes and heart disease . What this and other studies have found is that physical inactivity impairs hundreds of genes, molecular processes and overall metabolism.
The Silver Lining
Recent studies have shown that people who take small, frequent breaks to stand up and stretch or take a short walk, had smaller waists and better profiles for fat and sugar metabolism compared to those who sit for longer uninterrupted chunks of time. To keep your metabolism healthy and working well, the recommendation is to stand up or move a few minutes every 30 minutes or so.
NEAT News about Fidgeting
Dr. James Levine, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic, studies people who move and those that don’t. He has found people who move spontaneously or fidget burn about 350 more calories per day and are thinner than those who sit still. Moving whenever or wherever possible increases the amount of calories burned and boosts non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Mayo Clinic researchers reported that NEAT is more powerful than formal exercise and determines who is lean or obese . People who fidget have higher metabolisms than those who sit still and they gain less weight when given the same amount of excess calories. The bottom line is that the negative health effects of a chair-based lifestyle are very much real, but can be counteracted by thousands of minor movements each day from moving more or just fidgeting.
The MoveMor™ Mobility Trainer provides an easy and convenient solution to move more anytime you are sitting for work or recreation. According to an informal university study, moving with MoveMor™ increased metabolism and calorie burning by 60% compared to quiet sitting. This light activity is equivalent to the level that inactivity researchers recommend to promote better health. MoveMor™ makes it easy to flex your muscles and boost your metabolism anytime you are sitting.
1 Hamilton, Marc et al, Too Little Exercise and Too Much Sitting: Inactivity Physiology and the Need for New Recommendations on Sedentary Behavior, Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports 2008,2:292-298.
2 Hamilton, Marc et al, Role of Low Energy Expenditure and Sitting in Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, Type II Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease, Sept 2007 htttp://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org
3 Olsen, R. H. et al, Metabolic Responses to Reduced Daily Steps in Healthy Nonexercising Men, Journal of the American Medical Association 2008, 299:1261-1263.
4 Healy, Genevieve et al, Breaks in Sedentary Time: Beneficial Associations with Metabolic Risk, Diabetes Care 2008, 31: 661-666.