Sitting down all day – is it the new killer born from the deadly legacy of 2020? It’s not that humans have just begun to sit all day long since the world has been in lockdown, but, within six months, we can see the drastic effects it has had on our children’s health and wellbeing.
Having to stay home from school and not having the regular peer interaction that is so important to their social development, they sit indoors and do their school work, unable to go outside to run around the playground. Then they play video games and watch TV.
We might be able to ignore the daily toll the sedentary lifestyle takes on ourselves day after day, but for our children? In the famous words of one Sue Sylvester from Glee, “It will not stand!” Take a moment to let it sink in, perhaps stand up while you think about it. – The research results are in.
The list of illnesses directly related to the act of sitting down for prolonged periods is not a conspiracy theory. No one is sitting quietly on the medical facts; they are released to the public, so why are we not personally changing our lifestyles to avoid heart disease, stroke, and cancer risks, dementia, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, obesity, deep vein thrombosis, varicose veins, muscle and bone deterioration, nerve damage, mental illness, and, ultimately, premature death?
Are these not scary enough reasons to get off the couch and out for a walk? Horrible Histories, the comedy sketch television show, has a segment called ‘Stupid Deaths’ which is quite entertaining in a cringe-worthy way. Could sitting down for long intervals every day be the ultimate stupid death? It does seem like a dumb way to die. Extreme only for its pedestrian and preventable, even voluntary nature.
And what of the physical signs leading up to these deadly medical conditions? The pinched nerves, numbness or tingling in the legs, feet, and hands, poor blood circulation, acute stress and anxiety, increased abdominal fat and weight gain, lethargy and muscle weakness, backaches and muscle tension. Maybe we recognize some of these in our lives already?
Like that our glute muscles just aren’t firing anymore when we walk up the stairs, the climb makes us puff, and the hips ache after walking over the road to the café for our morning coffee. Or, maybe the pants are a tight fit or don’t even fit, and come to think of it, the GP mentioned high cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood sugar levels at our last physical check-up? What’s our wake-up call going to be, and how will we react when we get that call?
It is time to react to the news that prolonged sitting leads to serious health risks and death. The human form is naturally designed to stand up and be mobile, and it doesn’t like that we choose to sit more often than not, which it’s clearly showing us by acting out against our sedentary choices. Knowing our body’s ill-mannered, physiological reaction to these choices, how will we react to avoid developing a diminished quality of life, or, worse, becoming one of the ‘stupid death’ statistics?
What steps can we take to mitigate the risks of developing one of the above potentially deadly diseases and noxious conditions?
Forming a plan to be proactive in the prevention of serious medical conditions for ourselves and especially for our children is the first of several steps we should take to establish a healthier way to live. What might that plan look like?
Begin with determining why, when, and where we sit down, then cut back on each instance, even if it is just incremental, simple changes to start. Taking forward steps in the right direction is good, and we naturally walk one step at a time. We get to where we are going by taking continuous individual steps, one after another.
Work and School
So, traditionally, children sit down to study and we sit down to work. We may not be able to stand up all of the time, but we can arrange to stand while working. Stand-up and adjustable desks have been trialed in the workplace for several years now, and we are beginning to see positive health results come from those trials. Not that it takes years to reap benefits.
Some short-term results are increased energy, more calories burned, relief from sciatic pain and other musculoskeletal soreness, and better posture. Long-term benefits are the prevention of disease and the unraveling of the knots in our body caused by sitting down all day at work.
If children are unable to stand at school while doing their classroom tasks, they might be able to stand while doing their homework. If we consider investing in a stand-up desk for our home office space then the whole family can take advantage of its benefits.
Other times we sit down, are for our meals, so another way to cut back on sitting is to stand up while we eat. We can trade the neglected dining table in for a cool bar lean and start standing for our meals at home.
Often, when weight-conscious people are revamping their nutrition habits, we are told to make sure we sit down to eat. This is primarily so we take our time to eat healthily and think about what we are eating, which we should still do, but sitting down is not actually the necessary component.
Arranging walking lunches at work can be a great alternative to eating in the lunchroom, and definitely better than sneaking a bite at our desks. At least with kids, they tend to play after they eat their lunch at school. Adults, not so much.
But we might be able to go to the gym at lunch for a quick workout, or even a walk on the treadmill if it’s raining outside. If not, perhaps we can run the stairs in the office building.
There isn’t much we can do about standing during our commute to and from the office unless we are taking the tube or other crowded public transport. A car is a sit-down zone, but if the distance between work and home is close enough, we can arrange to cycle there and back at least some of the time.
At the end of the day, or all day on the weekends (yeah, right!), the couch calls us by name. Again, yet again, we sit down to binge-watch our favorite TV shows or a movie marathon before going off to bed. No more!
Stand up and do some lunges and squats. Involve the whole family in a nightly physical challenge while watching TV, provided no one pants too loudly, or just turn up the volume.
The bottom line
Hours upon hours are spent sitting down on our backsides, probably more than the UK adult’s estimated nine-hour daily average. The results of our sedentary ways are catching up to us with deadly consequences. We can’t let it get the better of us. Be proactive and make a wellbeing plan. Choose to stand up and move around rather than sit down and be still. Our bodies will thank us for it. So will our children.
Image Credit: rgstudio; pexels