I am sure that most of you have heard in the media recently that studies have shown being sedentary can be extremely detrimental to our health. Try and picture people that are active in the working day, they don’t sit down much, and are most likely to be of a healthy weight. Then visualise people that have desk jobs, sit all day, and even have their lunch at the desk. What body composition comes to mind?
When we are young we are inquisitive and we move around a lot; we crawl, we climb, and we squat with ease. But these types of movements seem to be conditioned out of us as soon as we get to school and sit on a chair.
The vision that comes to my mind for an active person is one of someone up fixing a telephone cable or maybe a gardener – someone that is not only quite physically active but also out in the open experiencing fresh air and sun. I see a strong, healthy person more than capable of carrying out daily tasks with ease. For a sedentary person I visualise someone tapping away on a computer, only getting up to make a cuppa or have a smoke break, and maybe they’ll go out to get lunch but then bring it back to the office and eat it at their desk. I can see someone that isn’t particularly physically fit, perhaps they are a little bit achy and have issues with lower back pain. Maybe they find themselves in a vicious circle of “I’m in too much pain to walk around a lot, so I’ll sit a bit more…” and thus further exasperating the problem.
I know that we have two extremes here, but these people do exist and it is worth looking at some of the science behind the effects of such lifestyles. So why is sitting so bad for our health?
Well, we aren’t really made to sit for long periods of time – it shortens our hamstrings and hip flexors, and our torsos are made to support our frame thus giving us a strong core. If we take this away weakness starts to occur and we become stiff and quite inflexible. So does this mean that we should be standing all day? Probably not, however I absolutely believe that there should be a lot of varied movement throughout the day.
I am particularly fascinated by standing desks with adjustable table tops that allow people that work at the computer all day to change from sitting to standing – which could be a fantastic idea. In previous articles I have mentioned the Apple Watch, which tracks your daily activity (among other things) and one of the ‘activity rings’ is dedicated to standing. It basically taps you on the wrist telling you to get up and move around every hour, within a 12 hour period. Sometimes you get caught up in work and a little gentle reminder like this is great to get you back up and moving around.
Lets look at this concept in a little more depth, a study featured in ScienceDaily suggested that standing more often can be linked to a lower risk of metabolic syndrome; a mixture of risk factors that can lead to health concerns such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.1 Standing specifically showed the likelihood of a reduction in body fat in both men and women. The study also went on to mention that when paired with exercise (beyond standing), these health markers were further improved. These findings are promising, however the results show a correlation rather than an absolute fact. Specifics were not outlined such as were these people involved in the study simply standing still? Or moving around? This was also a self reported study and often or not these types of results are not always accurate.
Walking is a simple yet effective way to get us moving around and no matter what your age may be incorporating a little walking into your daily routine is easy and very effective. If you are someone that strength trains often walking around on your rest days is great for preventing stiffness.
In my opinion moving around throughout the day simply makes sense – we all know that we feel a little stiff and lethargic if we have been sitting too long. When we are young we are inquisitive and we move around a lot; we crawl, we climb, and we squat with ease. But these types of movements seem to be conditioned out of us as soon as we get to school and sit on a chair. With all of the technology around today it is easy to keep an eye on how many steps we are taking – pedometers aren’t expensive, and with most of us having smart phones with step counting capabilities in-built it’s incredibly easy to keep track.
Walking is a simple yet effective way to get us moving around and no matter what your age may be incorporating a little walking into your daily routine is easy and very effective. If you are someone that strength trains often walking around on your rest days is great for preventing stiffness. If you are a little older, walking is a great weight bearing exercise that allows you to get out into the open air and feel invigorated.
So how many steps should we be doing each day? I guess it all depends upon the individual and what they are actually capable of. 10,000 steps has been thrown around in the media a little as a benchmark. This is quite a lot for most people and I would classify it as being a pretty active day. In fact when I checked my personal steps for the day I’ve only logged in at around 3888! I think we know ourselves and what we are capable of, when we have the choice to walk or drive, and I think walking should always come first whenever possible. Taking the stairs instead of the lift and walking to the grocery store and carrying those bags is a workout in itself! There are a number of studies carried out showing the health benefits of walking from stress relief to pain alleviation.2
The main point worth making, whether science says so or not, is that there is no denying that when you go for a stroll on a lovely sunny day you aren’t likely to turn around and say “I regret doing this!”. However it is also just as fantastic to know that there are studies supporting this and making the correlation between walking and moving around reducing the rate of metabolic disease.
How many steps do you take a day?! Why not leave a comment using the comments box below.
- Standing and exercise linked to lower odds of obesity: Standing one-quarter of the time linked to 32 percent reduced likelihood of obesity. (2015, November 3). In ScienceDaily. Retrieved 23 November, 2015 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151103112325.htm
- Sitthipornvorakul, E., Janwantanakul, P., Lohsoonthorn, V. (2014). The effect of daily walking steps on preventing neck and low back pain in sedentary workers: a 1-year prospective cohort study. In European spine journal : official publication of the European Spine Society, the European Spinal Deformity Society, and the European Section of the Cervical Spine Research Society, 2015 Mar;24(3):417-24. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25208502