by Christine Hunt
Warm weather is descending on the northern hemisphere and many of us are getting outside to engage in sports, jogging, gardening and other activities that get us moving. Most of these activities are done in the evening after work or on weekends when we have free time while during daytime/work time most of us are chained to a chair staring at a computer. Studies are confirming that sitting and inactivity are quickly becoming a major factor in weight gain and poor health.
Research by Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division (one of the primary doctors assigned to keep the astronauts from deteriorating in space) and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, shows that your body actually needs to perpetually interact with gravity through motion in order to function optimally. She found that sitting prevents your body from interacting with and exerting itself against gravity. While not nearly as severe as the antigravity experienced by astronauts, uninterrupted sitting mimics a microgravity situation, which has the effect of accelerating the aging process.
Interestingly, with regard to counteracting the ill effects of sitting, simply standing up every 10 minutes or so is actually more effective than taking a walk. And, it’s not how long you stand up, but how many times you stand up that makes the difference.
Thankfully, Dr. Vernikos’ research shows that simply standing up, about 35 times a day or so, will counteract the cardiovascular health risks associated with uninterrupted sitting. This is based on double-blind research where volunteers would spend four days in bed to induce detrimental changes. She then tested two groups to see which was more effective, walking or standing, and how long you would have to walk, or how many times you’d have to stand up to get better again. Her findings revealed that:
- Standing up once every hour was more effective than walking on a treadmill for 15 minutes for cardiovascular and metabolic changes.
- Sitting down and standing up repeatedly for 32 minutes does NOT have the same effect as standing up once, 32 times over the course of a day. To get the benefit, the stimulus must be spread throughout the day.
Movement of most any kind can counteract the effects of a sedentary work and home life. You might start by getting a pedometer to help you understand how many steps you are taking throughout your work and personal day. Then find ways to increase the number of steps you take daily.
Here are twenty tips to help you get moving.
- Wherever you work or shop, always park well away from the door. You’ve been sitting while driving there, so get out and stretch your legs with a nice stroll to the building, especially if it is a nice day.
- Take a longer, roundabout way to your desk on your way into the office, to and from lunch or to the restroom.
- Instead of sending an email, walk across the hall to talk to your co-worker.
- Rearrange your office/desk space so that you have to get up to reach often used files, your phone and the printer.
- Use an exercise ball for a chair which will engage your core muscles, help improve balance and flexibility. This is what I use. There are devices that you can set the ball in which have backs or rollers that give the appearance of having a “real chair” but I don’t advise that. Just use the ball. It enables you to rock back and forth, or rotate your hips and forces you to stand up rather than roll across the office to reach something. And just for fun, you can occasionally bounce on it. 😉
- Standing workstations are becoming very popular. I have seen devices with platforms that hold your monitor, keyboard and mouse on the desk for use while sitting but can be easily raised to work while standing. Some models have treadmills with a desk area for your laptop.
- Ideally you want to stand up every 10 minutes. Try setting a timer on your watch or phone to remind you to just get off your chair.
- talking on the phone,
- watching a video,
- reading an email,
- reading an article,
then sit down when you need to use the keyboard.
If you want to inject more movement that might just build some muscle as well into those standing intervals give these a try.
- Do 5-10 jumping jacks or just jump up and down.
- Do 5 – 10 squats making sure that you come to a full standing position between each squat.
- For more full body movement, combine exercises 12 and 13 by going from a squat to a jump, then landing in a squat again.
- Do the “chair” Yoga pose – a squat modification. Start slowly if you are not used to this movement. Repeat 3-10 times and hold for several seconds each time. This will help strengthen your upper and lower body muscles.
- Do a Foundation posture, created by Dr. Eric Goodman. This is an excellent exercise that can help reverse the effects of frequent and prolonged sitting.
- We all know to take the stairs vs. the elevator but in that short break, why not go to the nearest staircase and walk or jog up and down a few times. I know that 5 jogs up a full flight gets my heart rate up and sets the thighs alight.
- Try a modified jog. Start in a standing position with arms raised overhead. Lift one leg with the knee bent and bring the elbow of your opposite arm down to meet it while slightly twisting your torso. Repeat 20 to 30 times alternating sides or for 1 -2 minutes.
- Half forward bend. Stand 2-3 feet away from your desk. Feet hip distance apart. Raise your hands over your head and breathe in. Exhale while bending forward from your hips with a flat back until your palms rest flat on the desk. Gently release your shoulders and drop your head down to maximize the stretch from your feet to your hands. You might even get a pop out of your neck and between your shoulders. Hold for a few seconds or for as long as is comfortable. To release, raise your head, bend your elbows, lean slightly forward and step forward to stand up.
- Modified back bend. Stand 2-3 feet away from your desk. Feet hip distance apart. Breathe in and bend forward and hold the front edge of your desk. Breathe out while you rock your hips forward and allow your heels to come up off of the floor. Straighten your arms and push your shoulders back and let your head fall backward. You should be in a modified back bend position. Hold for a few seconds, then gently rock your hips backward, step forward, stand up and release your hands from the desk.
Incorporating gentle movement into your day will help keep your muscles flexible and help you hold onto your youth far into the future.
To your health!
Do you feel stiff or does your back ache after sitting at your desk?
What movement do you do at your desk?
Please share your questions and comments below.
Christine Hunt is a Wellness Coach and Certified EFT Practitioner and has found that working with the whole person by combining mind/body work, dietary adjustments and movement provides her clients with the tools they need to lose weight (and keep it off), get relief from chronic illness and positively transform their lives.
Contact her for a free, 15 minute consultation to learn why what she does works when other methods have failed.
Christine works with her clients in person, by Skype or phone. So, if you live away from the Annapolis, Maryland area, she can still work with you.
Chair yoga pose: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWsUHtwRGvI