We’re sitting more and more — and it’s affecting our health

Inactivity can produce a host of health problems ranging from obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure.

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If Justan Germano weren’t so dedicated to staying fit, work could put his health on the line.

The 32-year-old professional gamer spends more than eight hours nearly every day glued to a screen as he livestreams his exploits on social media and interacts with followers.

But he’s also a lifelong athlete who takes an hour-long stroll in the mornings and does 90 minutes of weight training at the gym five to six times a week.


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“I wanted to show people that just because you’re a gamer doesn’t mean that you have to be lazy,” Germano told Healthline.

However, millions of other people in the United States are becoming increasingly sedentary, according to a new study Trusted Source that examined low-energy behaviors.

Researchers found that Americans of all ages are spending more of their leisure time on a computer. They also discovered that a large portion of the population is sitting for longer periods in general.

In addition, the researchers concluded that well over half the country continues to watch television or videos at least two hours a day.

Scientists analyzed data from almost 52,000 children, adolescents and adults who participated in an ongoing federal study of Americans’ health.

Although there have been other studies on the public’s level of physical activity, none is as comprehensive as this one that appeared in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

For the first time, researchers measured the prevalence of sedentary behavior as well as looked for trends among all ages and over a long period of time, said Lin Yang, PhD, an epidemiologist at Alberta Health Services in Canada and the study’s lead author.

Among the conclusions reached by Yang and her colleagues:

  • About 60 percent of Americans have been spending at least two hours a day for the past 15 years watching television or videos.
  • The number of people using a computer at least 1 hour a day for reasons other than school or work increased during the same general time frame. By 2016, 56 percent of children, 57 percent of adolescents and 50 percent of adults fit this profile.
  • The amount of time that survey respondents estimated they spent sitting rose. In 2016, adolescents reported they were seated slightly more than eight hours a day while adults averaged slightly more than six hours a day.

“It’s really concerning,” Yang told Healthline. “We’re looking at a really alarming trend.”

The effects of sitting

Inactivity can produce a host of health problems ranging from obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure to anxiety, cancer, and atrophied muscles.

Even people who exercise regularly can sabotage their metabolism if they’re also stationary for long periods of time, said Ken Smith, senior research scholar at the Stanford Center on Longevity in California.

Smith said Americans have made marginal progress over the past decade toward meeting the federal government’s recommendations for physical activity, which calls for adults getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.

However, he told Healthline, when we’re not working out, we’re more likely to be not moving at all.

Dr. Cate Collings, president-elect of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and a cardiologist in Mountain View, California, echoed Smith’s comments.

She said that vigorous exercise on the weekend won’t entirely mitigate the effects of inertia Monday through Friday.

For better or worse, the body responds in real time when we sit, stand or walk. These actions have an immediate effect on processes such as the heart rate and blood pressure, Collings said.

“You can’t store up (the beneficial effects of exercise) — be sedentary, sedentary, sedentary… and then exercise,” she told Healthline.

Why we sit

Experts cite multiple reasons for the sedentary habits that can lead to “sitting disease,” an informal term that describes the collection of health complications.

In addition to watching TV and using computers for entertainment, Collings pointed to the popularity of mobile devices.

“The Information Age is absorbing, if not addicting,” she said.

She notes that people now use their smartphones and tablets to do everything from making dinner reservations to shopping — all of which is easier done sitting down.

Whiling away hours in commute traffic also contributes to physical inactivity, Collings said.

Kaiser Permanente physician Dr. Sean Hashmi points to the economy’s ­­shift from blue-collar jobs to more sedentary, white-collar ones in which office workers are more apt to communicate with other employees by email than walk over to talk to them.

“The biggest culprit is (workplace) culture,” he told Healthline.

He added that organizations must ensure their employees are healthy if they want them to be productive.

Hashmi, regional director of clinical nutrition and weight management for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, used to meet staff members once a week for 30 minutes of light exercise in the company’s “Walk With Your Doc” wellness program.

Long hours on the job often leave employees with only enough energy to plop down on the couch with the TV remote when they get home, he added.

What you can do

Healthcare providers say there is hope for sedentary souls who want to get moving.

The body can heal itself if given a chance, said Collings.

She noted that exercise is a tool to treat and even reverse the effects of inactivity.

“The body has a remarkable ability to heal itself when you remove the insults,” she said.

Hashmi is equally optimistic, pointing out that even those who have been heavy smokers for years start seeing improvements in their lungs as soon as they kick the habit.

The key is to take the first step, even if it’s a small one, he said.

“For someone who’s been sitting watching Netflix, the best day to start is today,” Hashmi said. “Today is the day. You start today. And you will start to feel better tomorrow inside.”

Here are some quick ways to get your body moving during the day:

  • Take a break every 30 minutes if you’re sitting at a desk, says Ohio chiropractor Drew Schwartz, DC. Walk around or do a few stretching exercises in your cubicle to relax the chest and hip muscles.
  • Get out of your chair and have face time with coworkers instead of communicating with them on the computer.
  • Run errands — or at least walk quickly — during your lunch break.
  • Forget the elevator — take the stairs instead.
  • Get off the subway one stop before your destination and walk the rest of the way.
  • Maintain the homestead yourself instead of paying someone to do it. Vacuuming, washing the car, and doing yard work can get the blood pumping.
  • When you watch TV, do a few exercises during the commercials.

This article first appeared on Healthline

 


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