What one habit is the absolute worst for your health? Smoking, right?
Experts say there’s something even more dangerous, and it’s something we all do every day: sitting.
If you hit the gym or run or walk on most days, you probably think you’re immune from the dangers of too much contact between your chair and your derrière. But some research suggests otherwise. Any extended period of sitting seems to be damaging on its own.
Why? “We really don’t know the answer, “ says Michael Roizen, M.D., Chief Wellness Officer of the Cleveland Clinic. “What we do know is that physical activity of any kind, such as walking, increases your ability to take up sugar, or glucose, into your cells, and that seems to be a basic step in preventing a lot of diseases. It’s important for preventing not only high cholesterol and triglycerides and inflammation but also fat accumulation in your liver and a number of other conditions associated with obesity,” he says.
So what’s wrong with sitting all day and getting your exercise outside of work hours? “One of the things that’s key is to keep your blood sugar level low,” says Dr. Roizen. “If you let yourself have high blood sugar at any point, that one time you have it will change your protein function and change it for a long time,” he says. These changes render proteins weak and dysfunctional, which may over time lead to small tears in the arteries and other problems.
5 Easy Ways to Sit Less
Assuming you can’t quit your desk job, here are Dr. Roizen’s favorite ways to move more:
1. Buy a treadmill desk. Even while being interviewed for this article, Dr. Roizen was walking — right in his office. In fact, whenever he’s at his desk, he’s walking, thanks to a TrekDesk, which fits over a regular treadmill. He can read while striding at 1.9 miles per hour and type while clocking 1.8 miles per hour, with the treadmill set at 2 degrees of elevation. How hard is it to walk and type? “It’s pretty easy, you learn how,” says Dr. Roizen.
Other styles of desk, such as models made by Steelcase, have the treadmill built right in, though these cost considerably more and don’t allow you to change the incline of the treadmill. Don’t want to walk while you work? A standing desk is another option. A variety of companies make desks that are easily adjustable, allowing you to alternate between sitting and standing.
2. Force yourself to take breaks. Get up from your desk and walk at least every two hours. “Even if you don’t have to go to the bathroom, go,” says Dr. Roizen.
3. Hold walking meetings. If you’re meeting one-on-one, stroll while you talk.
4. Walk after each meal. “When you first get home or right after dinner, or both, take a walk with your kids and ask them about the day’s events as you walk. If they’re too hungry, eat first and take a walk immediately after dinner. This was called an evening constitutional in the old days,” says Dr. Roizen. Eating out? “Rather than go to the valet, walk a couple of blocks to your car.”
5. Use phone time as exercise time. “Anytime I’m going to talk on the cell phone I walk and talk,” says Dr. Roizen. (When does he actually sit? Nobody knows.)
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Marianne Wait is a writer, editor and book developer who specializes in health. Follow her on Twitter @MarianneWait.