You might want to stand up while you read this. You may not think of yourself as sedentary, especially if you are one of the few who actually find time for that recommended hour per day of physical activity. And if you are one of the few, how do you spend the remaining 15 to 16 hours when you are not actively running, walking, biking, swimming, playing tennis . . . you get the picture? If you spend those 15 or 16 hours commuting to and from work or school, sitting at a desk, in front of a TV or any other screen, guess what—you are sedentary. This new sedentary is different from the way we’ve defined sedentary for the past 50 years.
In general terms, the new definition of sedentary behavior means if you are sitting down, you are sedentary. This also means it is possible to meet the recommended physical activity guidelines yet still live a very sedentary lifestyle. Dr. Marc Hamilton of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center sums it up by saying, sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little. And, it’s not an equal equation. Sitting too much may actually be worse. It involves an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase which works to reduce the amount of fat circulating in your blood, which also influenced cholesterol. When you’re sitting, this enzyme activity is significantly reduced.
According to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, time spent sitting is more important in determining mortality rates than the amount of structured physical activity. As part of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study, researchers found the more time a person spent sitting down, the higher their risk of dying. In fact, women who reported more than six hours of sitting per day were 37 percent more likely to die during the study period than those who sat for fewer than 3 hours per day—and that association didn’t change after adjusting for physical activity levels.
Here’s the hard part—our society involves a lot of sitting—at work, school, in our cars and at home. Here’s the good part. We can take breaks from our sedentary behavior. We can get up and walk. We can stretch. We can fidget. Skip the text or email to your colleague at the next desk—walk over and deliver it in person. We can wash our own cars rather than drive them through the car wash. If we look, we can all find ways—and very good reasons to move more.