Get on a schedule, get off your seat
You’ve probably heard it before. Sitting is the new smoking. That provocative assertion is credited to Mayo Clinic’s Dr. James Levine, whose research led him to famously state, “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”
News reports about the “sitting epidemic” are usually accompanied by a reference to a 2015 study of prolonged sitting—in the driver’s seat, the office chair, the sofa at home—that said we face increased risk of breast cancer, kidney and heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and other chronic disease.
Thus, the recent popularity of stand-up desks.
Yet other researchers at the University of Exeter and University College London have more recently concluded standing alone is not the remedy. After tracking 5,132 people for 16 years, they found “the overall mortality risk for these participants wasn’t influenced by how long they sat or by the kind of sitting,” reported the Washington Post. Instead, said study author Melvyn Hillsdon, “The problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself.”
Thus, the recent popularity of the treadmill desk, and even the bike desk, especially in tech offices.
Since Americans are always looking for the magic bullet, should we all buy one, or ask the office manager to put in the order?
Thankfully, no. Instead, take a movement break. How often? Every half hour. A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine late last year of 7,985 adults aged 45 years or older found that people who sat less than 30 minutes at a time—no matter how much they exercised—had the lowest risk of early death.
Keith Diaz, lead author of the study and an associate research scientist at Columbia University Department of Medicine, told CNN, “We think a more specific guideline could read something like, ‘For every 30 consecutive minutes of sitting, stand up and move/walk for five minutes at brisk pace to reduce the health risks from sitting.” Diaz conceded more research is needed to verify this recommendation, but it is nonetheless encouraging for those of us who find it hard to fit in the gym or difficult to win approval for activity accommodations from employers.
The research indicates most of us are sedentary for about 12.3 hours of an average 16-hour waking day. As we age, we typically become even more sedentary. Yet participants’ risk of death grew with total sitting time and “sitting stretch duration,” regardless of age, sex, race, body mass index or exercise habits.
What about when we’re in bed? Doesn’t that count as sedentary behavior, too? “The short answer is that inactivity is the culprit, whether you are sitting or lying down,” says heath and exercise reporter Gretchen Reynolds of The New York Times. “The problem is that we don’t use our legs when we sit or lie prone. Our legs and backside contain some of the largest muscles in our body, which contract robustly when we are upright,” she writes. “In the process, they use blood sugar to fuel themselves and stimulate the release of biochemicals that favorably affect cholesterol levels and other metabolic processes. None of that happens when we sit in a chair or lounge in bed.”
Reynolds cites a 2010 study in which healthy young men were asked to get off their feet as much as possible. Within two weeks, they began to develop metabolic problems, including serious insulin resistance, whether they had spent their down time sitting or in bed.
Nonetheless, the answer is not to skimp on sleep. “Our bodies need those eight hours or so of being prone in order to complete various physiological repair processes,” she notes.
That leaves us our waking hours. Keep moving!
Moving at Meetings
Meeting design is paying increasing attention to attendee movement. A trend toward shorter sessions and more interactive programs is often attributed to shorter attention spans and a desire for less passive learning. But some planners—and hotels—are recognizing the health implications, as well.
At MGM International properties, for instance, Wellness Moment Programming consists of short activities designed to engage body and mind, including brain teasers, guided video meditations led by Dr. Deepok Chopra and physical activity breaks.
Instead of the traditional hour-and-a-half session followed by a 25-minute break, MGM suggests a short activity after each 25 minutes of programming, then a 10-to-15 minute break every 90 minutes.