Posts Tagged ‘Sitting’
When you grew up, your parents or teachers probably told you to sit and stand straight, instead of slouching your back and shoulders. They themselves may not have exactly known why that was important, it just seemed that way. But more recent science has found that they were actually right in many more ways than they imagined. As it turns out, good posture enhances physical fitness, helps reduce stress, and contributes to healthy aging.
That good posture plays a role in health and fitness should come as no surprise. Only when the body is properly aligned, the supporting ligaments, tendons and muscles can function at their best. Sitting or standing hunched over for hours – as many of us do at work and other activities – can lead to chronic pain and permanently debilitating damage. By contrast, good posture can help prevent such wear and tear and maintain greater flexibility and strength.
Research suggests that good posture can also foster people’s psychological well-being. One study from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, found that the way people conducted themselves physically did indeed influence their self-esteem and how they were able to cope with stress and problem solving. As tests showed, sitting or standing upright helped participants feel more powerful and competent when facing a number of challenging tasks they were assigned to. In other words, bodily experiences can significantly affect cognitive and emotional states as well, the researchers concluded.
The issue becomes ever more pressing with age. A study from Japan discovered connections between good posture and the risk of future disability. Participants who sat, stood and walked even only slightly bent forward in their mid-life years developed greater physical limitations than their counterparts who generally maintained an upright posture. The differences became ever more pronounced as they got older, and were eventually quite significant in terms of their overall health status.
There is also a social dimension to the way we present ourselves physically, especially in our later years. As surveys have shown, old age is commonly associated with physical deterioration and visa versa. Many seniors feel left behind and isolated from society, in part because of actual physical (and perhaps mental) shortcomings, but also based on false assumptions that they no longer can keep up. However, while some slowing down may be an inevitable part of nature, there is no need to accept premature degeneration and decline.
And there is much that can be done to counteract those processes. For example, stretching, yoga and other exercises that promote flexibility can do wonders for an aging body. So can brisk walking, keeping a good stride, moving with ease and confidence – all of which are signs of good health and vitality. A positive attitude and outlook on life can also do some good, particularly when it shows on the outside.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”
Health experts have long warned that a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to a number of diseases and even shorten people’s lifespan. Several recent studies have confirmed that sitting for hours while working, commuting or relaxing at home can result in serious damage that cannot easily be offset even with regular exercise.
One study found that sitting for six to eight hours significantly increases the risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and certain forms of cancer. These findings are particularly relevant for office workers and people driving for a living, like taxi-, bus- and truck drivers, according to Dr. Richard R. Rosenkranz, a professor of nutrition science at Kansas State University and co-author of the study report.
“We know with very high confidence that more physically active people do better with regard to chronic disease compared to less physically active people, but we should also be looking at reduced sitting. A lot of office jobs that require long periods of sitting may be hazardous to your health because of inactivity and low levels of energy expenditure,” Rosenkranz said in an interview with Medical News Today. “It’s not just that people aren’t getting enough physical activity, but it’s that they’re also sitting too much.”
What’s significant here is that sitting for hours on end by itself can form a health hazard. For example, as one study found, those who sit uninterruptedly for most of their work days nearly double their risk of developing colon cancer. This is independent of how physically active they are in their free time. It’s a bit like smoking – the damage occurs no matter how healthily you live otherwise.
The risks are the same for everyone who sits too long, regardless of age, says Dr. Mark Tremblay, professor of pediatrics at the University of Ottawa, Canada, and director of the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Institute (HALO).
“People tend to think they’re okay as long as they get their ‘dose’ of working out each day, [but] getting your 30 minutes of physical activity five times a week is no insurance against chronic disease,” he said to Reuters.
Why sitting especially contributes to such a wide range of health risks is not yet altogether clear, however, experts believe that sitting too much may adversely affect blood vessels and metabolism by increasing fat content in the blood stream and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.
“When you are standing or walking, your leg muscles are constantly working, which helps to clear blood glucose and blood fats from the blood stream,” said Dr. Hidde van der Ploeg, a researcher at the University of Sydney who conducted a separate study on the subject in Australia. “If you are sitting, this is not happening because the muscles are not active.”
More companies are beginning to realize that a health-conducive work environment can benefit not only their workers but also their own bottom-line. To minimize rising insurance costs by preventing health problems before they develop, some are redesigning work stations and offer in-house facilities where employees can move, bend and stretch multiple times during the day. Elevated desks where work can be performed standing and even treadmills in individual office spaces are becoming more common.
There are also less cumbersome adjustments people can do on their own. Taking breaks for a few minutes every one or two hours by walking the hallways or climbing the stairs to loosen one’s muscles is a good start. Unfortunately, there is not much to be done about long, slow-moving commutes other than finding housing closer to work, which is not always an option. But moving and stretching after coming home, instead of immediately collapsing in the lazy chair, can offer at least some compensation.
Those who travel long-distance by plane should also pay close attention to their need for movement before and after their flight. Layovers offer great opportunities for walking airport terminals. Instead of sitting at the bar, the lounge or the waiting area, you can go for a long stroll. While airborne, you should get up at least once every hour and walk the aisles as far as possible.
The benefits from moving, even the slow and leisurely kind, should not be underestimated or dismissed as insignificant. If nothing else, you burn a few calories and prevent stiffness and back pain and, in the long run, more serious problems. So, don’t just sit there, do something for your health…
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).
Spending excessive amounts of time in front of the tube has long been considered a factor for weight gain. But now researchers in Australia say there’s evidence that watching TV can shorten your lifespan.
For every hour spent sitting and watching TV after the age of 25, your life expectancy falls by approximately 22 minutes, according to a just released study. That means that if you watch six hours a day – not an uncommon habit – you shave off around five years of your life. By comparison, smoking after the age of 50 cuts you short 11 minutes for every cigarette or four years in total.
So, is watching TV deadlier than smoking? Not quite, said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. “The harms of TV are almost certainly indirect. The more time we spend watching TV, the more time we spend eating mindlessly in front of the TV, and the less time we spend being physically active. More eating and less physical activity, in turn, mean greater risk for obesity, and the chronic diseases it tends to anticipate, notably diabetes, heart disease and cancer.”
There is also the argument to be made that people who spend much of their time at home with nothing else to do than surfing the channels are often lonely, isolated and depressed, which are all factors that can contribute to premature mortality, according to Dr. Katz.
For the study, which was published in the “Journal of the American Heart Association,” the researchers analyzed data on thousands of Australians aged 25 and older from a national diabetes-, obesity- and lifestyle survey that also included information about the people’s TV watching habits.
Critics of the report caution that the researchers have only shown an association between the amounts of time people spend watching TV and their lifespan but not a cause and effect relationship. Others have pointed out that it doesn’t really make a difference whether you sit in front of a TV, a computer, or a lazy-boy chair reading a book. It’s our sedentary lifestyle that makes us sick. We sit in our cars commuting, sit in the office all day and then sit down and relax at home. Humans are not made for this kind of lifestyle and the negative consequences are becoming more and more obvious. The answer is exercise and more exercise.
“There is increasing evidence that the amount of time spent in sedentary activity […] may adversely impact health,” said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a cardiologist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Staying active and reducing time spent sedentary may be of benefit in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and may be considered as part of a comprehensive approach to improve cardiovascular health,” he added.
In an unrelated study, Taiwanese researchers found that people who exercise as little as 15 minutes per day, can reduce their risk of dying from cancer by 10 percent. That gives them a three-year longer life expectancy over those who don’t exercise at all.
A 30-minute daily exercise routine, which is widely considered a healthy regimen, would be more desirable, but not all people can fit that in their busy days. “Finding a slot of 15 minutes is much easier than finding a 30 minute slot in most days of the week,” said Dr. Chi-Pang Wen of Taiwan’s National Health Research Institute, who is the lead author of the study. The best impact comes from the first 15 minutes and they can be “very beneficial,” according to Dr. Wen. His research also found that every additional 15 minutes of exercise per day can reduce the risk of cancer by another one percent. (The study report was published in the medical journal “The Lancet.”)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get no less than 150 minutes moderate to intensive aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. (Moderate aerobic activities can include brisk walking or climbing stairs, while vigorous training involves running, jogging, long-distance swimming or bicycling and the likes.)
“There are a myriad number of ways we can engineer exercise into our lives,” said Dr. Paul Thomson, director of the Athlete’s Heart Program at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. It’s the little things that add up and make a real difference in the long run. He recommends taking the stairs instead of using the elevator, parking at a far corner of the parking lot instead of the closest spot, or mowing the lawn on weekends instead of hiring someone else to do it. All it takes is a little imagination and the will to follow through.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun™,” which is available on her blog http://www.timigustafson.com and at amazon.com. Her latest book, “Kids Love Healthy Foods™” is now available in e-book format, also at www.amazon.com