The recent eclipse got me thinking again about sitting a lot. We had houseguests who came to stay and then did the three-hour drive up to Glendo, Wyoming (pop. 250) to catch the “totality”. So far, so good.
What happened next was not unexpected, I suppose, but was still over the top. It was a ten and a half hour trip back in the car. Apparently the only way back was equipped to handle 85,000 cars on a good day, and instead there were somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000. Oops.
This was obviously an unusual, one-time event (well, sort of). But what about all the other times we are stuck in an airplane, car, or bus for a long time? Or, quite frankly, sitting at work all day or having a heavy couch-sitting habit?
Many times these instances are not our fault! We want to get from A to B, and end up paying the price. But, sometimes it really is a clear choice to park ourselves for long periods of time. At times like these, I know it can be very difficult to remember to get up and move around, or feel the urge to do so. Here are a few things that I think may help with any sitting marathon.
Sitting Marathons … What Can You Do?
To make this simple, I am going to do the good news/bad news thing.
First the bad news (sorry, but remember that knowledge is power).
- Sitting a lot leads to all sorts of bad things like diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease, blood clots, osteoporosis, neck strain, and back pain. This is why sedentary behavior is now considered an independent risk factor for bad health, along with smoking and poor diet.
- You do not get much in the way of health benefit from sitting all day and then hoofing it to the gym for an hour of exercise. That hour of exercise is not enough to counteract the accumulation of bad things that happen from sitting too much. Seriously. It’s true.
The good news:
- It turns out that if you get up and move during the day, like every half hour or so, and just stroll around or do some light exercise, it is enough to counteract the sitting thing.
- In fact, studies have shown that light exercise is just as good if not better than moderate exercise if done throughout the day. This is very good news for those of you who were thinking that you have to break into a sweat every half hour in order to stay healthy. Instead, you just have to remember to keep moving! (OK, maybe that is also the bad news…)
Why would that be?
To answer that I am going to use the example of what happens to you when you sit in a plane for a long haul. This has probably been studied more than sitting in other modes of transportation because of the well-publicized risk of getting a blood clot, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). In response, many planes have included exercises you can do while seated or standing on order to cut down your chances of this happening.
The focus here is to take frequent breaks to keep your blood moving. When you sit on a plane or anywhere else for a period of time, your circulation gets sluggish. But, as evidenced by the good news above, you can do some simple things that will keep your blood moving, and you in a much healthier state. On a practical level, this means that the things they give you to do on a plane will actually help you quite a bit.
That said, here’s a few suggestions to use to get your blood moving in spite of cramped quarters or other constraints.
- Ankle circles, both ways, 10 times.
- Foot pumps, i.e., point and flex your foot 10 times.
- Taking the foot pump a bit further, come up on your toes 10 times. Then, lift just your toes 10 times. You can do this seated or standing.
- Standing, bring one knee to your chest grabbing it with your hands. Alternate with bringing the other knee to your chest. Do 10 repetitions for each leg.
- With legs placed wide apart, do a squat. As you come up, take your right arm and reach it over your head and to the opposite side. Squat again, and reach up and over to the other side with the left arm. Alternate reaching to each side as you continue to squat each time. Do 10-20 squats with a reach. Take care to squat correctly! Meaning, make sure your knees do not come out over your toes.
- Stroll around for 5-10 minutes.
One last thing, and this one probably does not qualify as helping your circulation, but it’s a good thing to do anyway. Hip flexor stretch (see graphic below). Relax, press forward, and hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds. This will help to counteract having your legs bent when you sit.
More on how to actually remember to do these or other moves in a future blog!
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