Don’t just sit there, MOVE!

We’ve all heard that “sitting is the new smoking.” That’s because prolonged periods of sitting are linked to a variety of unhealthy conditions and illnesses including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Sitting is also bad for our brains. Researchers at UCLA found that sedentary behavior is a significant predictor of thinning of the brain’s medial temporal lobe (MTL). This is a region of the brain involved in the making of new memories. It is also a region where thinning is thought to precede cognitive decline and dementia in middle-aged and older adults. A more immediate effect of too much sitting—and one I’ve observed many times in patients battling Cultural Stress—is depression. We feel disempowered when we don’t move our bodies.

For people who spend most of our days seated at desks, in our cars, at meal tables, and on our couches, the good news is that it doesn’t take that much movement to reduce the risks of our sedentary ways.

Researchers at the University of Sydney found that just 20 to 40 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise – like walking – drastically reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease among “high sitters,” e.g., people who sit for six or more hours a day.

The study’s lead author, Emmanuel Stamatakis, noted that study participants who met the minimum recommendation of 150 minutes of physical activity per week (that’s just 21 minutes a day) “substantially weakened or even eliminated the association of sitting with risk of death and death from cardiovascular causes.” He added that if all Australian adults sat less and moved more, the country would save “tens of billions of dollars in healthcare” within a few years. Moreover, that goal could be accomplished with “an extra 15 minutes of brisk walking on 5 days/week,” he said. He also pointed out that the type of exercise we do is less important than getting up from our chairs each day and doing it.

Our movement doesn’t even have to qualify as “exercise,” which we typically think of as a regimented, repetitive activities like walking, running, bicycling, or lap swimming. Our bodies weren’t actually designed for this type of short, intense bursts of limited variety surrounded by hours of inactivity. As Parkour trainer Dan Edwardes writes, most exercise “doesn’t nourish us physically or mentally. [Human] movement is meant to be so much more: hugely varied, constantly changing and adapting, working with strange alignments and demands, challenging the mind as much as the body.”

As you go about your day, think about incorporating more—and more frequent—types of movement: STRETCH to put dishes away on a high shelf; squat to check the air pressure on your tires; twist to look over your shoulder to check your rear reflection in the mirror; park at the spot farthest from your destination instead of the closest. And look for ways to have more physical fun!

Any kind of movement—especially fun, playful movement—reduces the risks of prolonged sitting and works in the direction of health: dancing, badminton, rollerblading, yoga, and even activities like balancing on the curb as you walk to work, wrestling on the floor with your grandkids, or turning cartwheels and somersaults on the lawn. When you embrace your inner toddler, this type of activity becomes commonplace—as it was when you were two. And how might that change your mental outlook—if you regularly participated in spontaneous physical play?

Our modern conveniences have meant that we just don’t move as much as we used to, which is one of the most debilitating forms of Cultural Stress. We don’t even have to walk to the television to change the channel, or to the wall to turn off the light. We have become pointers and clickers, instead of do-ers.

But we don’t have to become prisoners of our conveniences. We can get up and MOVE.

To your health!


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