From time to time I like to take a break from using this space to foist my opinion on the latest social and political issues on my readers and instead inform them about important health-related topics that might be of interest to them. I do that because a) I care about my readers, b) I can fill up a good portion of that sort of column quoting medical data that someone else put the time and effort into researching, and c) sometimes (and this is one of those times), my opinion on the current social and political situation amounts to “humanity is doomed because most of us are idiots.” It’s really hard to get 650 words out of the sentiment expressed in item c.
And so today I’d like to warn my readers about a very unsafe practice that I must admit that I engage in all too often, and chances are you do too. There’s a good possibility that you are doing it right now, in fact. You might want to stand up for this news: You are probably sitting too much.
I admit that I spend most of my waking hours sitting down most days. I sit at work. I sit around the house. I even sit when I’m outside sometimes. And all too often I sit for hours before standing up again. It turns out that sitting around for long periods of time is a very bad thing to do, as far as your health goes.
There is mounting evidence that a whole host of serious medical conditions — including high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes — are much more likely to occur for people who spend most of their time sitting down. Even people who (like me) go to the gym regularly are still at greatly increased risk of these serious health issues if most of their non-gym hours are spent sitting on their backside (also like me, unfortunately.)
As a matter of fact, the amount of time you spend standing up or walking versus the amount of time you spend reclining may be more important to your health than whether or not you ever engage in vigorous exercise. There is a very real possibility that the medical establishment is about to shift gears from emphasizing that we all get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity every week to just encouraging us to spend more time on our feet.
Exactly how much sitting time is too much is still up for debate, though. Being on your feet all the time can also be unhealthy, so don’t go throwing out all the chairs and couches in your house. One quote I saw from an ergonomics professor at Cornell University recommended that we try and follow the 20-8-2 rule, which means that for every 20 minutes we spend sitting we should spend 8 minutes standing up and 2 minutes moving around.
I know, you are probably shaking your head at that suggestion. It seems unrealistic as a lot of us do things that take hours to complete during one sitting, whether it’s doing stuff on our computers, watching a movie or TV show, or reading The Telegraph from cover to cover (as I’m sure you do.)
It’s a big change in thinking, and you certainly can’t be expected to execute it exactly every half hour. But it’s a good goal to shoot for. There is no reason why we can’t get up while we are watching TV or reading every so often, other than not being in the habit of doing so. Work might be more of a problem. It does seem like it would hurt productivity for those of us who have computer-related jobs to be standing up 40 minutes of every hour. Although there are now “standing workstations” that allow people to transition from sitting to standing while using a computer, they are not widely available yet. That needs to change.
Government and businesses need to address the chronic, forced sedentariness of their employees as the serious health hazard that we now know that it is by finding ways to give all workers a way to do their jobs without being confined to a chair for eight or more hours every day.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at email@example.com.