No matter how old you are, squeezing some physical activity into your day can dramatically improve your quality of life… not to mention reduce your risk of death and disease.
But what many folks don’t realize is that what you do when you’re not exercising can be just as important as what you do when you are.
Sedentary behavior (like working on the computer, watching TV or lying down) is strongly associated with health risks regardless of how active you are.
Or as Dr. Marc Hamilton of the Texas Obesity Research Center put it, “Sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little.”
Here’s a perfect example of that.
A study out of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center found that time spent sitting was directly associated with cardiovascular disease. That part’s not surprising.
But that same study also found that those who sat the most were nearly 50% more likely to die during the follow-up period, even after controlling for age, smoking, body weight, alcohol intake and, yes, level of physical activity.
So all else being equal, a person who sits more is at a higher risk of death than a person who sits less.
Time to Hit the Pause Button
The study also showed that, in addition to how much time a person is sedentary, long stretches of inactivity have a critical health impact.
The more breaks from sedentary behavior, the better.
Even when the total time spent sitting on the couch was equal, those who took more frequent breaks from the couch (to use the restroom, walk around, grab something to drink, etc.) had a slimmer waist, lower body mass index, healthier blood lipid profile and better glucose tolerance.
Simply put, frequent breaks lead to less obesity and better metabolic health.
There are some basic takeaways here that are easy to explain…
Obviously, sitting on the couch or in front of a computer instead of doing something active is going to burn less energy.
And this is only exacerbated by the fact that watching commercial television has been shown to lead to increased consumption of empty calories.
But the effects of extended bouts of sitting on your keister extend beyond these two easily explained phenomena.
Long periods of sitting can also lead to dramatic changes in skeletal muscle.
Too much R&R has been shown to lead to significant reductions in muscle triglyceride uptake, increased plasma triglyceride levels and increased insulin resistance.
This reduces the amount of fat taken out of the bloodstream by muscles, allowing it to continue to circulate and not get burned off as energy.
So what’s a person to do?
Get up and do something. Anything.
Do a couple laps around the house. Refill your water glass more often.
Better yet, do some pushups or squats.
Like the research says, your life depends on it.