As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise, many of us have been ordered to self-isolate. In my home state of California, we are limited primarily to trips to gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores, and banks. So we’re stuck in our houses, with many baby boomers and older adults trying to figure out ways to spend their days. And unfortunately for most people, that translates to more screen time and more sitting.
But increased sedentary behavior becomes a double-edged sword–inactivity is actually one of the ways we weaken our immune systems. Here are some reminders about the perils of sitting, and ways to get up and move more, from my book, Building Your Enduring Fitness.
According to Dr. James A. Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Obesity Solutions and author of Get Up: Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It!, we now sit for thirteen hours a day, sleep for eight, and move for three. We no longer have physically-challenging jobs; the energy we expend on household tasks has dropped significantly, and we’re addicted to our smartphones!
Dr. Levine has been a leader in the modern study of obesity and inactivity. He writes that our bodies are built for movement. Up until 100 years ago, our ancestors engaged in agricultural activities, sitting for only a few hours a day. But life has changed.
When you stop moving for an extended number of hours, it’s like telling your body it’s time to shut down and prepare for death. Dr. Levine’s investigations show that when you’ve been sitting for a long period of time and then get up, a number of molecular reactions occur. For example, within ninety seconds of standing up, you start pushing blood sugar and fats out of the bloodstream and into the cells to be used for energy. All of these effects are started just by carrying your own bodyweight, and if done regularly, they can greatly decrease your risk of diabetes and obesity.
The new science of wellness tells us that even if we manage the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week, that’s not enough to stay healthy.
A 2015 issue of Annuals of Internal Medicine reviewed forty-seven studies and concluded that sedentary behavior is associated with increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, and a higher risk of dying from all causes. Other researchers add the risk of developing dementia, obesity, depression, and back pain to the list.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 3.2 million deaths each year are attributable to insufficient physical activity. In fact, Dr. Levine states, “For every hour you sit, two hours of life walk away.”
Here are some ways to move more throughout your day:
Become less efficient. If you’re still working, inform your boss that employees who are physically active throughout the workday are more productive. Then she won’t mind when you begin to print to another office, use the upstairs restroom, or hold “walking” meetings.
Embrace your work break time. A full-time employee has at least sixty minutes of free time each day—a gift for movement! Get your buddies involved and stroll on a regular basis.
Seek out the stairs instead of elevators and escalators.
Get creative with indoor walking. Many malls now welcome walking visitors and indicate the distance per “lap”—in year-round, air-conditioned comfort.
Move more throughout the day! Play a guitar or piano, walk your dog, clean a room, carry groceries, and play with your kids or grandchildren. Or just pretend you’re a child and do the things we ask them not to do: fidget, tap your toes, stand on one foot and then the other.