Sitting is the New Smoking: Seniors Need to Move More

move more

Let’s step back to 1950 for a moment, when around half of the population of all developed countries lit up a cigarette on a regular basis. In fact, about 80% of men in the UK were regular smokers[1]! And all that smoking was driven by advertisements that touted the “benefits” of tobacco. Even doctors appeared in ads, making all sorts of claims about how certain cigarette companies created superior products[2].

According to Truth Initiative, those ads went off the air in 1971. We look back now and shake our heads at the claims that so many believed back then, but we now know to be entirely untrue. Smoking is deadly – according to the American Journal of Public Health, it increases your risk of a wide variety of health problems, including premature death, by over 180%.

But at the time, of course very few people realized the terrible effects of smoking. Will it be the same in the future, when generations look back at today’s sedentary lifestyles and see a connection between sitting too much and dying too young?

What Sitting Too Much Does to the Body

Dr. James Levine, a Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic, told the LA Times that sitting is “more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.” Dr. Levine points out that in the United States, we usually spend more than half of our waking hours sitting down. That can include driving, sitting at a desk, watching TV, and simply relaxing at home[3].

Just how bad is the problem? The Heart Foundation says that over 25% of Americans sit for more than eight hours every day. Some of that includes television, which the average American consumes at the rate of three hours per day. And that same person is probably active for less than 20 minutes a day.

But what does that actually do to the body? The Heart Foundation breaks down some pretty frightening statistics, including[4]:

·         Blood flow slows down throughout the body, which can allow fatty acids to build up. The chance of a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack, increases by 147%.

·         The risk of death increases; your odds of dying from a cardiovascular event increase by 90% while your odds of death from any other cause increase by 49%.

·         Your body’s insulin resistance goes up, which increases your odds of diabetes. In fact, the risk of diabetes goes up by 112%.

·         Among those who suffer from blood clots, 82% of them sat for extended periods of time.

·         The body’s production of lipoprotein lipase drops by 90%. This is an enzyme that breaks down fat. When there isn’t enough of this enzyme, fat is stored instead of burned, and that can lead to obesity.

But wait – there’s more!

·         According to Keck Medicine of USC, back pain is a common problem among those who sit for several hours each day. Decreased mobility of the spine and issues with posture can lead to pain anywhere from the neck to the lower back.

·         Live Science tells us that prolonged sitting is associated with some cancers of the breast and colon.

·         The journal of the Public Library of Science found that a sedentary lifestyle could increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. The study was based on study participants between the ages of 45 and 75 who reported their time spent sitting; those with higher hours of sitting displayed thickening of the medial temporal lobes, where memories are kept.

Other side effects of too much sitting can include anxiety, depression, decreased ability to perform athletic tasks, shortened muscles, slower movement, reduced blood flow, and much more[5].

How to Counteract the Problems of Sitting too Much

Research shows that while exercise is definitely good for you, it doesn’t negate the damage a long period of sitting every day can do. That’s because your metabolism slows down by 90% after your body has been still for only 30 minutes, and it takes time to bring your metabolism back up[6].

Okay, so what can you do[7]?

·         Make regular movement your routine. Get up and move around at least once an hour. Stretch your body, walk around, or simply stand up for a few minutes. Set a timer to remind you to get up and do something! If you can’t stand up – such as if you are confined to bed for a period of time – you can at least stretch your body and get the blood flowing.

·         Use a standing desk. Use a standing desk that forces you to stay upright. These desks have been shown to improve creativity, productivity, and brain function. Or perhaps don’t use a desk at all other than for paying bills or creating correspondence (and even then, you might be able to do it standing up).

·         Move carefully. When you do stand up, take the time to hold onto the armrests of your chair and find your balance before you begin to walk away. Postural hypotension, or a drop in blood pressure, can lead to a fall risk. The best way to avoid it is to stand up slowly. If you suffer from this on a regular basis, an emergency response solution with fall detection is a good idea.

·         Sneak in more physical activity. Find ways to move more throughout your day. When at the grocery store, choose the parking spot furthest away from the door. When you have the option between an elevator and the stairs, take the stairs. Every little bit of movement helps.

·         Keep good posture. When you do sit down, ensure your posture is correct. This means consciously thinking about keeping your shoulders back, tucking your chin, and pulling your stomach muscles back toward your spine. The result of good posture is constant use of your abdominal muscles, alignment of the spine, good circulation, and more energy.

·         Get peace of mind. Using a medical alert pendant can help with your peace of mind. If you are one of the many who suffer from weakness, dizziness, feeling faint, or serious fatigue when taking certain medications, a medical alert system with fall detection is an excellent way to improve your confidence, which means you are more likely to stand up and move around. If you are dealing with any sort of health issue that makes movement painful or difficult, such as arthritis, you could make good use of a medical alarm.

·         Stretch often. Even if you aren’t standing up, you can stretch! Every five or ten minutes, take the time for a good, full-body stretch. Reach your arms above your head, reach your toes out as far as they will go, and gently bend and twist your torso. Not only is this good for your body, it simply feels good, too.

·         Wear comfortable shoes. If you’re wearing shoes that hurt your feet, you are much less likely to stand up if you can avoid it. Look for shoes that are well-cushioned and fit comfortably. Not sure what’s right for you? Speak to your doctor for recommendations.

·         Drink plenty of water. Though water is obviously good for you for a multitude of reasons, it also forces you to get up more often to urinate. When you do get up to go, try to use a bathroom that is farther away, if you have the option.

·         Roll a ball around. When you are sitting down, put a small ball at your feet, such as a golf ball or tennis ball. Roll it around with your feet and bend your toes around it, using it to help you stretch. You can do the same with a towel. This gets the blood moving in your lower legs.

·         Get more exercise. Increase your exercise regimen from 30 minutes a day to 40 minutes a day to see some better physical results. At the very least, you are building more flexibility and physical strength, which can help negate your fall risk.

As you move around more and get the blood pumping to your muscles, remember that having protection against accidents can give you the peace of mind you need to move more freely. A medical alert device, especially one with fall sensors that detect a fall so you don’t even have to press the emergency alarm button, can provide the confidence you need to get up out of that chair and move around as often as possible. The on-the-go options from Alert1 Medical Alert Systems can ensure that you are protected even during long walks outside. Get the protection you need today and start taking a stand against sitting, which can lead to a longer, healthier life.