Aug 17, 2016 1:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell


Americans are becoming more sedentary – and it’s killing us. A new report from the American Heart Association says sitting too long can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other ailments – even in people who exercise regularly. “We need to get moving,” says John Ryan, MD, a cardiologist with University of Utah Health. “In both our professional lives and home lives we are not moving enough.”

The changing employment market is a big reason Americans are moving less. During the 1960s half of all jobs required some sort of physical activity. Currently fewer than 20 percent do. Existing evidence shows between sitting at the office and sitting at home the average American adult is sedentary for between six and eight hours a day. “That level of inactivity can lead to an increase for a variety of cardiovascular disease,” says Ryan. “You are increasing your risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.”

Sedentary careers are only part of the problem. While people may be aware they are sitting at work, they may not know how much they are sitting elsewhere, adding to their total of sedentary time. Time spent sitting during the commute is factor. Technology may also play a role. “At home we spend time sitting watching television,” says Ryan. “Then during leisure time we are sitting looking at our phones.”

The first step to getting moving is realizing how sedentary you are, and then changing your routine. Set an alarm to go off every hour to remind you to get up and move. If you make it a point to make a change you are more likely to follow through long term. “People also need to take ownership of it and take initiative,” says Ryan. “Not only breaking up inactive time, but also making sure to get 30 minutes of exercise five days a week that gets your heart going.”

While technology may be responsible for some of our sedentary behaviors, it could also help in eliminating it. For instance, cell phones mean we are no longer tethered to our desks. So, when taking or making calls get up and walk. Or download an app that tracks steps or otherwise encourages you to move. “The interest in Pokemon Go has gotten people moving,” says Ryan. “They are using their phones and they are exercising.”

 Once you start to think about it, there are lots creative ways to get up and get moving during the day. Don’t carpool to lunch – walk instead. Substitute meetings in stuffy rooms with a walk around the block. Not only will it get you moving, but the increased circulation and change of scenery may clear out some of the mental cobwebs that have accumulated while you’ve been sitting staring at a computer screen. 

Your overall mental state is likely to improve the more you move. Research has found that regular exercise helps release chemicals like endorphins in the brain that play a part in improving mood. In fact, a 1999 study found regular exercise did more to eliminate feelings of depression than anti-depressants did. “If you are active and less depressed your life will improve,” says Ryan.

Americans slowly became more sedentary over a series of decades. However, we don’t have the same amount of time to reverse the trend. Instead we all need to start right now, one step at a time. “Take the initiative to make a positive change in your life,” says Ryan.

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