Elevated Status of Being Sedentary
Health and Nutrition | Movement

The Elevated Status of Being Sedentary

Please excuse the “bait and switch” tactic here, but I wanted to get your attention.

In case you didn’t know it, sedentary behavior (a.k.a., sitting around a lot) has been given its own niche on the list of risk factors for, um, death.

In the meantime, there is a quality of life issue with sitting. Too much of it can lead to all sorts of other risks, like eating too much, bad circulation, mental decline, diseases of many types, and general depression and lethargy. In other words, you are missing out, and possibly being a burden to others. That includes financially. Estimates are that sedentary behavior costs $507 billion per year in America.

To be fair, taking a break is essential. Apparently, it is good for stress reduction, tissue repair, socializing, and could even be educational if you are reading or watching something informative. We need to rest. If you take a look in the animal kingdom, you will see animals hanging around most of the day. In fact, lions are said to do that a whopping 18-20 hours out of 24. Other animals never seem to make much of an effort at all (sheep, cows).

So, where is the middle ground?

Do we need to go for a hike every day, heave some rocks around, or take up a construction job? Or can we park ourselves most of the time and just get up once in a while?

Again and again, we see the same recommendation: Get 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity most days of the week, or vigorous activity 60 minutes 2-3 days a week, and then throw in two to three days of strength training. Strength training does not need to take all day either. A 30-60 minutes session (with rest periods in between sets of lifting) is a good goal.

When you think about it, that’s not much at all. There are a few catches, but even then we do not have to be going all out.

Turns out if you do the recommended amount of exercise, and then you sit the rest of the time, the fruits of your efforts are minimal. In other words, you need to move around more during the day to augment your bodily processes. Otherwise, your body is still in sluggish mode.

This is not as easy as it might seem. Just to point out how hard it can be to get off the couch, consider this long but partial list of interventions that are being thrown at it:

  • Coaching
  • Social networks
  • Tracking systems
  • Gamification
  • Parent education training (to limit screen use in children)
  • Worksite interventions
  • Contests
  • Computer reminders
  • Behavioral skills training
  • Motivational readiness training
  • Activity websites
  • Stand-up desks
  • Treadmill desks
  • Looking for genes linked to inactivity (could we do gene therapy for this?)

Then there’s Great Expectations. Many people get discouraged when they start to move more (no matter what the starting point) and nothing happens. Their bodies look the same. How can this be? There’s plenty of answers here. Perhaps the food intake has also increased. Perhaps the level of activity is not enough to make results visible for quite a while. There are even people who are “low responders” and “high responders”. People have different responses to the same amount of activity. Sad but true. There is getting to be more and more research on this.

What a mess.

Are there any half-way decent answers here?

Yes.

  1. Instead of thinking that bodies are going to have an amazing transformation upon moving more, we need to think in terms of booting up our circulation, getting nutrients flowing around our bodies, and muscles doing what they are meant for.
  2. Reduce fear. A bit of education about how bodies work, and how to start slowly to get more exercise can be very helpful. Also, how to work around aches and pains. It IS possible to do that.
  3. Look on the bright side. Being able to do more can be something that builds on itself. After not much time at all, people start to feel better. Then, it does not take such a gigantic effort to get started each time. There really is a light at the end of the tunnel. Things can and do change.
  4. For those who are pressed for time, taking a few minutes to get in more movement can actually be a TIME SAVER because it increases energy and efficiency (and enthusiasm). This can be a tough sell, which is why there are programs out there to incentivize people to just give it a try.
  5. Last but not least, work on getting rid of the processed food. What does that have to do with it? This kind of stuff makes you feel sluggish. Even if you are good at staying active, eating junk food can set you back. Not only can it slow you down, but it is bad for your body.

OK, one more thing. All of the above shows how big a problem this is. Not only is it widespread, but it is also very difficult to change! Just realizing that can be the start of something meaningful, for you or someone you know or care about.

Cheers,
Kristen

© 2020 Kristen Carter, MS. All rights reserved.


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