You may have heard that “sitting is the new smoking.” Several recent research articles have sounded the alarms about the cardiovascular risk association with too much sedentary behavior. One study compared people who logged more than four hours of screen time to those with less than two and found a 125% increased risk in cardiovascular disease in the sedentary group. In response to the alarms, standing desks, standing meetings, and walking meetings have become more prevalent in some workplaces and schools. Devices such as Fitbit now measure sedentary hours that have less than 250 steps and buzz the user if it is time to get up and walk around. Although these changes in workplace culture and technology are certainly helpful, the cards are still stacked against us when it comes our (and our kids) daily routines. I probably fall into the category of active couch potato, since I jog three times a week and lift weight 2-3 times per week but gravitate to sitting 95% of my waking hours. Although, experts suggest that being an active couch potato is still better than being an inactive couch potato, and that there is still more research needed to understand the risk of sitting too much, most would agree that being couch potato is still a problem. On reflecting on my own daily routine, and my kids:
I spend at least an hour each day in my car sitting, to get to work, or to get to an Extension program (where I might encouraging people to be less sedentary).
Every meeting room, classroom, office has chairs, tables. The expectation is to naturally sit. Most people sit. I’ll stand, and others might stand or walk around, but sometimes we will get funny looks, or a look from the speaker we are listening to.
My kids are encouraged to sit in school. The one time that they are not encouraged to sit very long is during school lunch, the one time when they should be sitting longer.
I have a nice couch in my living room in front of the TV…
My daughter’s concert is in an auditorium with nice comfortable seats. If you stand in the isles, whether in the front or the back, you might be in someone’s way, or blocking someone’s view.
Softball and baseball games have bleachers, but also we have comfortable folding chairs that we can sit in. Basketball games are even more difficult to stand or even walk around.
The golf course I occasionally play on discourages walking in favor of carts in order to promote faster play.
There is nowhere to stand in a movie theatre.
I have a standing desk now, which can adjust up and down. I do stand most of the time but find it easy to lower it and sit for longer periods.
I push mow our lawn now, but riding mowers are fairly inexpensive.
Public health experts have this complex theory called Socio-ecological theory. It suggests that our health behaviors such as physical activity are shaped not only by our own motivations, knowledge, awareness and skills, but also by other people, environments, systems, policies, norms, etc. Although I am motivated to be less sedentary, there are many other influences besides gravity that are countering my efforts as suggested above.
TAKE A STAND. Social ecological theory also suggests that OUR behaviors can change or influence others. In other words we have the power by our own behaviors to influence the culture and the environment. If you stand in a movie theatre, you might feel awkward, or may get some looks, but in a way you are changing culture or what people perceive to be normal. Who knows, you might get some followers. Talk with your teachers and advocate for more classroom activities. Ask your supervisor about a standing desk, even if it might feel awkward. Stand up in a meeting, even if it feels strange. Keep it up, changing culture and norms takes time. This is an interesting YouTube video that illustrates the point.
National Institutes of Health: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404815/
Author: Dan Remley, PhD, Ohio State Univesity Extension, Assistant Professor, Field Specialist, Food, Nutrition, and Wellness.
Reviewer: Lisa Barlage, Ohio State University Extension, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ross County.