Safeguard Your Health with a ‘6th Inning Stretch’
The Hazards of Prolonged Sitting
Most Americans spend half their day sitting down. According to the American Heart Association, only 20 percent of the population has a physically active job. Between work, school, and catching up on our favorite shows, it’s easy to sit for hours.
“This sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of many preventable diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease — even if you work out every day,” says Dr. Chantel Hile, a vascular surgeon in the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
First, the Bad News
Two recent studies highlight the negative impact of prolonged sitting, particularly on vascular function. One study of young schoolgirls found that just three hours of uninterrupted sitting could affect their femoral artery function. Another study found that a six-hour sitting period greatly reduced vascular function in otherwise healthy young men.
“We can apply these findings to most people,” says Hile (right), “and the changes they’ve seen are systemic, not just limited to the legs.”
It’s unlikely that our sedentary lifestyle is going to change any time soon. Modern technology and conveniences like cars, washing machines and grocery stores let us meet our needs without expending a lot of energy. And we know that a daily jog or trip to the gym won’t protect us against the deadly effects of too much sitting.
Now for the Good News
The solution is simple. We need to get up and move more throughout our day. The young men in the study mentioned above restored their normal vascular function just by taking a 10-minute walk. This is great news for anyone who spends most of the day sitting down.
Breaking up “chair time” with short periods of activity can prevent harmful vascular changes. Here are some ways you can do that:
- Set an alarmon your smartphone, computer, or watch for every two hours to take a five-minute activity break.
- Check out appslike StandUp, Move (for iPhones), and StandApp (for iPhones and Android). Alerts and reminders make it easy to add small bursts of activity to your day.
- Consider working at a standing deskor a treadmill desk. Just don’t spend too much time on your feet, says Hile: “Standing for long periods of time causes swelling and increased vein pressure. The key is to switch off between sitting, standing, and moving.”
- Use a tracker. Hile encourages her patients with peripheral artery disease (PAD) to add as much activity as they can to their everyday routines. “Wearing any kind of exercise tracker makes people more likely to be active,” she says. “Pedometers and trackers encourage and motivate them.”
Awareness is key, adds Hile. Now that you know how easy it is to balance the effects of a sedentary life, you can start taking small steps toward better health.
Above content provided by the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.This is a paid partnership between Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Boston Magazine's City/Studio