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Sedentary Nation: Too Little Walking, Too Much Sitting
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Sedentary Nation: Too Little Walking, Too Much Sitting

 

As you make your New Year's resolutions, make walking more and standing less two of them. Neither involves fancy equipment and both offer quick and simple ways to improve your health.

Everyone's heard that Americans are too sedentary, but just how sedentary we've become is hard to believe. Two recent studies on the problem came up with results that should shock even the most jaded consumer of health news. One study found that fewer than 25% of the people walk for 10 or more consecutive minutes in a week. Another found that even active women spend nearly two-thirds of their waking time sitting.

It shouldn't be difficult to improve on those numbers.

Everyone's heard that Americans are too sedentary, but just how sedentary we've become is hard to believe. Two recent studies on the problem came up with results that should shock even the most jaded consumer of health news.

Current recommendations are that people engage in 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week. It may be time to pay a lot more attention to what people are doing in the other 160 hours of the week.

Do the Locomotion

The first study looked at how many people walked or used a bicycle for at least 10 minutes continuously to get to and from places during a typical week. The Yale School of Medicine study's purpose was to examine the relationship between such forms of active transportation and heart disease. Its most striking finding was that fully 76% of the 10,000 people in the study did not spend even ten minutes exercising consecutively a week. The study data came from the 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Participants were in their 40s.

The body mass index, waist size and the odds of having high blood pressure or diabetes were all lower among people who did engage in at least 10 minutes of active transportation a week, all factors that help prevent heart disease.

“Active transportation is an untapped reservoir of opportunity for physical activity for many U.S. adults,” according to the researchers. Yet the U.S. has one of the lowest rates of active transportation in the world. How our nation's cities and towns are laid out is one big reason for this. Urban and particularly suburban infrastructure and policies (such as a lack of bike lanes and places to lock and leave bicycles) strongly favor car travel and can make walking, biking, skating or skateboarding difficult, unpleasant or even downright dangerous. The researchers estimate that three-quarters of the country would be healthier if they walked or biked more often, even 10 minutes a week. And while some municipalities have taken steps to make themselves more pedestrian and bike friendly, most have not. Until they do, people who want to walk or bike more will simply have to make an extra effort.

Even Marathoners May Sit Too Much

If you are someone who thinks walking 10 or more minutes at a time seems like too much to do, you might at least want to stand up more often. Actually, even if you do exercise, you should make an effort to get up out of the chair more often in 2013.

Earlier this year a study of over 200,000 Australians concluded that the more they sat, the likelier they were to die sooner. Healthy or sick, active or inactive, the more people sat, the more likely they were to die in the next three years.

The findings shook up a lot of people, but it's likely that people who exercise the most thought the study had much meaning for them personally because they didn't spend as much time sitting as other people do.

They should think again. A recent study says that they certainly do.

It's likely that the people who exercise the most think that they don't need to worry about the dangers of sitting too much, but a recent study says they certainly do.

People who exercise the most do not sit less than those who exercise little or not at all,according to a new study. Rresearchers at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine sought to find out whether people who exercised the most sat less than people who exercised less frequently. They found no such thing.

The study looked at 91 healthy women aged 40-75. All wore a monitor called activPal, a combined accelerometer and inclinometer, on their thigh. The accelerometer measured body movement, the inclinometer measured body angle and posture, allowing the researchers to tell how often a person was sitting. Women wore the monitor continuously, taking it off only while bathing and when they went to bed at night.

Even ‘active’ people spend more time sitting than they do sleeping, a trend that seems to keep growing as people send e-mails or text messages at work instead of getting up to talk to a co-worker or order things online instead of shopping for them.

On average, the women in the study exercised for 146 minutes a week, nearly meeting the national exercise guidelines of 150 minutes. They also sat for over nine hours a day--63% of their waking time. There was no difference in sitting time between women who exercised the most and those who exercised the least, not even a trend. Women who exercised eight to 10 hours a week still spent over nine hours a day sitting.

We've now reached the point where even “active” people spend more time sitting than they do sleeping, a trend that seems to keep growing as people find new ways to avoid movement. Sending e-mails or text messages at work instead of getting up to talk to a co-worker. Ordering things online instead of shopping for them, which would at least involve walking.

Like the active transportation issue, this problem is not going to solve itself. But most physical activity is low intensity and everybody can do more of it. From taking the stairs instead of the elevator to leaving the car behind for certain errands, countless opportunities arise during the day.

Many people sit so much (60-80 hours a week) that they couldn't replace this time with moderate physical activity even if they wanted to. A standing desk may be the way to go for those whose work requires hours in front of a computer screen. You can even build one yourself.

People need to grab every opportunity to stand, walk and move during the day. Don't just resolve to walk more and sit less, make a plan. Figure out a change you can make to use your body as a mode of transportation more often; then find a way to spend less time on your butt.

With resolutions, the important thing is to have a very specific plan for putting them into action. So choose an errand to walk or bike to, and if you sit for long periods of time, set a timer on your computer or phone to remind you to get up and walk around a bit at least every hour. You might even take care of some other chores in the process — washing the dishes or vacuuming are perfectly acceptable forms of non-sitting exercise.

December 31, 2012






 


 
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