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Combatting "Sitting Disease": November's Great Fitness Experiment

Posted Nov 01 2009 10:01pm
Never say you can't get in some exercise at the office!

It is with great pleasure that I announce the comeback of the Great Fitness Experiment in practice rather than just in name only: For the month of November I am launching a new GFE. Lest you think I'm crazy and have forgotten the occupied state of my womb (4 days until my official due date!), I will tell you that I took that into account in picking this GFE. Which means, of course, that if a 9-months pregnant chick can do it, you certainly can too! It is based around one small fitness tweak that can have huge results. What is it? Standing.

That's right, I'm doing an Experiment about standing. Before you laugh yourself silly, consider the research, courtesy of Women's Health Magazine:
- Sitting down causes your body to shut down fat burning enzymes, reducing fat burnage by up to 50%.
- For every two hours spent camped out on your butt, your risk of diabetes increases 7%
- For every one hour on your backside, incidence of metabolic syndrome increases 26%
- Sitting for extended periods of time has also been linked to increased risk of heart disease and depression.
- Sitting for a long time is murder on your posture and can lead to all kinds of injuries due to weakened, imbalanced and inflexible muscles.

But, you say, I exercise! Every day, even! Unfortunately in our wired society, 30-60 minutes a day in the gym may not be enough to counteract the effect of playing potted plant for 8-10 hours a day, a number which sounds high until you actually count up all the time you spend sitting in front of the computer, the TV, at the table, in the car and on the floor because getting up when you can't bend at the waist is too much trouble (although that last one may just be me). Unless you have a very active job - like waitressing, construction work or hooking - then you probably spend way more time off your feet than on them.

In a recent study, Genevieve Healy, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Cancer Prevention Research Centre of the University of Queensland in Australia and her colleagues found:
"Regardless of how much moderate to vigorous exercise participants did, those who took more breaks from sitting throughout the day had slimmer waists, lower BMIs (body mass indexes), and healthier blood fat and blood sugar levels than those who sat the most. In an extensive study of 17,000 people, Canadian researchers drew an even more succinct conclusion: The longer you spend sitting each day, the more likely you are to die an early death—no matter how fit you are."
Come on, the researchers just broke out their trump card: sitting makes you dead! Ahem. Hyperbole aside, the fix for "sitting disease" and apparently all other modern travails is pretty simple. You have to up your incidental activity. The researchers call it NEAT for non-exercise activity thermogenesis because after conferences with booth girls, researchers love nothing more than a cute acronym. What that means for the rest of us is we have to find ways to move more.

The article suggests starting by making a commitment to stand up every half hour. I would add that maybe while you are on your feet, do a couple of jumping jacks or burpees. Not enough to get you all pit-stained before the big meeting but still plenty of fodder for your office mates to discuss behind your (well-toned) back. While I am not lucky enough to have physically present coworkers other than little people who already think everything I do is nuts, think of the fun you office people could have! You could swing at invisible bugs! You could make a sacrifice to the Purel gods in hopes of not catching swine flu! You could do a rain dance! Or a tap dance! Or the Single Ladies Dance (bonus points if you can get your coworkers to join in like on Glee)!! The options are endless really.

Okay fine, if you want more practical options the researchers add you can walk around whilst talking on the phone, suggest an outdoor jaunt when someone asks to talk to you, and the old sub-a-stability-ball-for-your-computer chair trick. (However, as someone whose job is done on a computer, I will tell you that the stability ball did not work well for me. It made my posture even worse and gave me terrible back pains.) Other ideas I thought of include standing up and walking to the kitchen or water cooler to get a drink of water, developing a trademark fidget or tic, using a stationary bike or treadmill while watching TV and - my personal dream - bumping up your computer desk to standing height and then buying one of those tall chairs so that you have the option of standing and surfing.

How's this fora multitasking device? It's a treadmill computer desk AND stability ball chair.

The Experiment
For the month of November, I am simply going to stand more. That's it! To remind myself to stand up every 30 minutes, I've installed TimeLeft, a free customizable desktop timer (it even plays mp3s in case dings bother you). In addition, I'm going to make 5 conscious choices to move more every day. (And yes, rocking the baby counts!) Pretty simple! Who's in with me? What are your ideas for simple ways to add more incidental movement to your life? And just out of curiosity, has that stability ball trick worked for anybody??

PS> If anyone has any suggestions on how to go into labor those would be much appreciated too!
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