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Don’t Don’t Just Sit There

Have you thought about how many hours of the day are you sitting?

Sleep has gotten quite a bit of attention in health circles (and rightly so) but we rarely think about how much of the day we are using our derriere – inactively of course.

We go to the gym regularly and actually get a good workout, cardio, weights, yoga and more, but then we what happens? What do the majority of the urban population do – they sit. They sit in their cars or on their bikes and then go to their desks and sit again. They sit until lunchtime where they sit and eat, and then get back to sitting and doing their work again. At home there is help – someone sweeps and swabs the floor, does the dishes, washes the clothes, cooks and gardens for them.

After dinner they sit and watch shows like Castle or Choti Bahu. On the weekends they sit in the movie theatre chomping on popcorn or drinking with friends. You get the picture.

We all know that being inactive is unhealthy but the actual dangers of this inactive lifestyle, confirmed by noteworthy scientific studies, are startling. Studies of the daily movement patterns of your typical moderate exerciser, even someone who runs, then sits for hours afterward, and usually moves less on days when he or she does not exercise was tracked by scientists

At the University of Massachusetts young healthy men put on a large 4- inch platform heeled shoe their right foot. The left leg was left suspended above the ground. For two days, the men moved around by hopping around in crutches, while the left leg never touched the ground. The left leg’s muscles didn’t contract and was fully sedentary.

The muscles in were biopsied in both legs after 2 days. There was a finding of multiple genes being expressed differently in each man’s two legs. After only 48 hours of inactivity the gene activity in the left leg suggested that DNA repair mechanisms had been disrupted, oxidative stress(the inability to thwart toxins) was rising, insulin response was dropping, and metabolic activity within individual muscle cells was slowing.

You may think that sitting is not the same as dangling a leg for 2 days. If this does not hit a nerve, there is more.

Scientists with the National Cancer Institute in the US spent eight years following almost 250,000 American adults. The participants were required to answer detailed questions about their daily activity — how much time they spent commuting, watching TV, sitting before a computer and exercising, as well as about their general health. Heart disease, cancer and diabetes were absent in the group.

But after eight years, the results were gloomy. Many participants were sick and quite a few had died. Those who watched TV for seven or more hours a day proved to have a much higher risk of premature death than those who watched less TV. Television viewing is a widely used measure of sedentary time but this can easily be substituted for computer use.

Moderate exercise only slightly lessened the health risks of sitting. People in the study who exercised for seven hours or more a week but spent at least seven hours a day in front of the television were more likely to become ill and die prematurely than the group who worked out seven hours a week and watched less than an hour of TV a day.

If this study still seems intangible, consider a new Australian study which determined that watching an hour of television can deduct 22 minutes from someone’s life. If an average man watched no TV in his adult life, the authors concluded, his life span might be 1.8 years longer.

You may be willing to give up 1.8 years to watch your favourite soap or hang out with your friends on Facebook but do you want to do it with diabetes, heart troubles and hypertension – probably not.

The fix – just move. If you have a desk job, make it a point to stretch and walk as often as possible. Take the stairs, park as far away as possible and look for ways to move. I know you are tired when you get home but take 5 minutes to walk around the house after your meal and you will find yourself with some renewed energy. Play with your kids, cook with your spouse or walk to your neighbor’s home. Those of you who go late to the office – please wake up a half hour early and get moving! It is not difficult but what is difficult is to begin the new lifestyle. Stop the habit of having the household help bring things for you! Once you make a habit of finding some non-sedentary activities, you will be surprised at how good you feel.

Published in Pune Mirror, June 28, 2012

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