Updated: Jul 12
I woke up from my bed, performed my morning rituals with minimal movements including sitting half asleep on my toilet seat where pulling up the flush string seemed like an effort, after which I sat comfortably on my sofa with a newspaper or a mobile phone while waiting for my coffee to brew. Usually, at this time, I would rush to get ready to leave for office where I would let my brain work and body rest, not any more as I can do just that in the comfort of my home. I don't even need to take a bath. Engrossed in my work - hustling between meetings which, let me remind you, are conducted in a comfortably seated manner; occasional tea breaks where I prefer to just sit, relax, and have a little chit chat - time passed quickly, sun has set which I, obviously didn't notice thanks to my watch. Finally, it's Me-Time - I understand how valuable my health is, I headed for my workout in the gym which was pretty intense, yeah.. I seemed to have a good day today, health-wise. It's time to shut down, watch some TV, have dinner and sink into the bed.
You get the gist of what I'am saying. This article, however, is specifically about impacts of being sedentary, without much discussion about role of nutrition, prevalent stress and other lifestyle behaviors. FYI, the person above is hypothetical but depicts a majority of people in our society with an exception of his evening workout.
Even after discounting the workout that you should regularly get to not become 'Fit' but infact, to survive, majority of people in every society including India are sedentary which means they severely lack Non-Exercise-Physical-Activity like walking, standing, no prolonged sitting, walking to work, climbing stairs, working in the kitchen, playing with kids, gardening etc. All these activities come under what is technically termed as NEAT (1)- non exercise related activity thermogenesis which, ideally, should be making up majority of overall calories spent during entire day. With the advent of modern technology, sedentary behavior has become a norm, even the so called 'active' individuals who go all out in the gym but reward themselves with inactivity rest of the day are categorized as 'Sedentary'. There is indeed an epidemic of sedentary behavior which is making humans sick, unhealthy, frail and weak.
Perils of Too Much Sitting
Too much sitting is taking away your health and happiness. The longer you sit without including periodic low level physical activity, more prone are you to have negative impacts. Chriss Kresser has written a great article on 'How sitting is making you sick and fat'. He has listed several studies which show that:
Sitting decreases the activity of enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL) which helps you burn fat. (2)
Too much sedentary time decreases bone mineral density without increasing bone formation, which raises risk of bone fracture.(3)
Excess sitting increases blood pressure and decreases diameter of arteries, both of which make heart disease more likely.(4)
Unfortunately, even a structured training regimen combined with good nutrition is not enough to keep modern chronic disease at bay unless you remove the element of inactivity. Some researches suggest that those who are very active individuals (marathon runners) are more likely to be sedentary when they're not exercising. (5)
Mimic Your Ancestors, Hack Your Genes
Our ancestors did not exercise, nor were there gyms to go to. The way they lived was genetically consistent - they would walk long distances in search of food and shelter, they sprinted occasionally to hunt, exerted themselves strenuously to escape from predators. On the other hand, we don't have to exert any force, because everything we need is available at our finger tips. Exercise is only an intervention for us to survive, and we better be serious about it. But exercise is not what we have been discussing about, it is about your NEAT. Hack your environment to make yourself an active individual, the way Chris Kresser describes it is "become an organic mover". Here are the steps you can take:
Start your day with some activity, for e.g. a morning walk for 15-20 mins.
Take a cold bath to take benefits of Cold Thermogenesis.
If you are used to driving to office, try walking or cycling (if possible). If that is not option for you (in case you live in Bangalore :P), create a demand to walk by parking your car at a distance.
For every 90 minutes of sitting at your chair, perform five minutes of low level activity either by doing some stretches, body movements, walk-and-talk or simply stand and work. I have created a short video to demonstrate these.
Use a swiss ball to modify your ergonomics, this will create a need to adjust yourselves in the form of micro-movements.
Becoming an active individual is the first step and a meaningful one if you want to loose fat, trick your genes into supporting good health, stay away from dangers of prolonged sitting (think obesity, CVD risk, weak bones, chronic pain). Once you become active, you are ready to reap enormous benefits of a structured training plan.
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