HEALTH PLUS MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT
The world is experiencing an unprecedented, life-altering challenge due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many persons are still becoming adjusted to this new reality and “work-from-home” is now a part of everyday vernacular and life. While it is hard to predict exactly when this COVID-19 pandemic will subside, the world has been grappling with another pandemic for years: Sedentary lifestyle, Physical Inactivity (PI) and what the scientific community coined as the “Sitting Disease”.
According to the World Health Organization(WHO), 31% of individuals 15 years or older are physically inactive and approximately 3.2 million deaths per year are attributed to this unhealthy lifestyle behaviour.
Although Physical Inactivity was defined as a pandemic in 2012, and leading organisations have recognised this crisis and have been championing efforts to increase physical activity, insufficient trends continue to persist. At the current trajectory, the 2025 global Physical Activity goal set by WHO of improving Physical Activity by a nominal 10%, may not be met!
The financial burden of Physical Inactivity
Additionally, in 2013, it was estimated by a John Hopkins study, that Physical Inactivity cost healthcare systems around the world $53.8 billion dollars. Moreover, deaths attributable to PI cost another $13.7 billion in productivity losses.
Sadly, if action is not taken by us now, individually and as a community, the PI pandemic will persist long after we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic: both the health and economic impacts of the PI pandemic will continue to be severe.
The Sitting Disease
What do we mean when we refer to sitting disease? The “sitting disease,” or a sedentary lifestyle is a term used to describe individuals who engage in prolonged periods of sitting (more than eight hours/day cumulatively) or overall inactivity. While sitting all day may seem harmless, you may be surprised by the negative impact it has on your health.
Adverse effects include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels, thereby increasing the risk for type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, deep vein thrombosis and certain cancers (breast and colon). These were all found to be associated with the sitting disease.
An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking!
Sitting can also increase pain
Even if you are reasonably active, hours of sitting, working at a desk, on the computer, or watching television tightens the hip flexor and hamstring muscles and stiffen the joints themselves. Overly tight hip flexors and hamstrings affect gait and balance, making activities like walking more difficult and perhaps even setting you up for a fall. Plus, tight hip flexors and hamstrings may contribute to lower back pain and knee stiffness, afflictions that many suffer with every day.
Sitting for too long can pool blood in your legs. This places added pressure in your veins. They could swell, twist, or bulge, developing varicose veins. You may also see spider veins, bundles of broken blood vessels nearby. They usually are not life-threatening, but they can cause tremendous pain.
If you don’t move it, you could lose it
Older adults who are not active may be more likely to get osteoporosis (weakened bones) and could slowly become unable to perform basic tasks of everyday life, like taking a bath or using the toilet.
The Motivation to Move
It is evident that less sitting and more moving overall will contribute to better health!
There is an abundance of easy and convenient ways you can integrate movement into your schedule, whether at home or in the workplace. This does not mean you need to get those old, dusty running shoes out of the closet and start training for a marathon, but you certainly can if that goal adds the motivation to move!
You might start by simply standing rather than sitting when you have the chance or finding ways to add steps while you work.
Rule of Thumb:
For every 30 minutes of sitting, try to stand for eight minutes and move around for two minutes.
How to Increase Movements Every Day:
1. Walking up/down the stairs instead of taking the elevator.
2. If you work at a desk for extensive hours, try a standing desk, or improvise with a high table or counter.
3. Integrate a treadmill desk or a bike desk into your work-from-home office.
4. Having walk-and-talk meetings; walk with your colleagues for meetings rather than sitting in a conference room.
5. Walking around while talking on the phone if space is permitting.
6. Limiting the amount of time you spend sitting and watching TV.
7. Changing traditional video games into activity promoting games.
Impact of Movement
Tracking your steps with a fitness tracker, your phone or a simple pedometer is beneficial. The recommended target by American Heart Association is 10,000 steps a day. But if you are sedentary, and this is a difficult daily goal, any improvement will be beneficial. If you normally get 2,000 steps a day, try to aim for 4,000 and increase consistently as you become more active.
Health risks caused by sedentarism and the dangers of sitting can be prevented simply by moving more during the day. The impact of movement, even leisurely movement can be profound. For starters, you will burn more calories. This will lead to weight loss and increased energy.
Physical activity adds more than just burning calories, it adds years to your life and improves your mental wellbeing. Take baby steps. It doesn’t have to be vigorous. Just stand up and move your muscles!