Don't just sit there. It may be killing you.
Getting off the couch and moving more might lengthen your life, as well as decrease your risk of dementia, physical disabilities and other serious medical problems.
For several years, health experts have been sounding the alarm about the dangers of "sitting disease," which is sitting too long or too much. The term captures how many people are glued to their seats for hours in front of the TV, in cars and at the office.
Sitting disease has been linked to increased risks of Type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, disability in people over 60, and death from cancer, heart disease and stroke. One study showed that sitting less may lead to a longer life.
A recent analysis suggests "there are 34 chronic diseases and conditions associated with excess sitting," says endocrinologist James Levine, 50, co-director of Obesity Solutions at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix and Arizona State University. He has researched sitting disease for three decades and wrote a new book, Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It. "We hope that getting up more reduces the risk of all of those things, but the prospective studies on several of those conditions have not been conducted."
If you take a brisk walk, jog, swim or do other physical activities for at least 30 minutes daily, it's great for your health, but not enough to offset being sedentary the rest of the day, he says. You still need to move for at least 10 minutes every hour, Levine says. This is especially true for retirees who want to "lead a zestful, purposeful existence after a life of hard work."
USA TODAY asked Levine about sitting disease:
Q: How much do most people sit?
A: Most people spend 10 and 15 hours a day sitting. It sounds kind of irksome, but most people sit most of the time. We have to search our souls pretty deeply to find a time when we are not sitting, and sitting is contrary to what our bodies are meant to do.
Q: A recent time-use survey showed that Americans spend an average of 2.8 hours a day in front of their TV. How can people be more active while watching TV?
A: One can convert sitting TV time to active TV time quite easily. I have patients who stroll around their living room during the advertisements. I advise people to walk on the treadmill at a comfortable pace while watching TV.
Q: How often do people need to get up from their chair during the day?
A: The rule of thumb in retirement is the same as during your work years: If you've been sitting here for an hour, it's too long. For 10 minutes of every hour you need to be up and moving in what's called non-exercise movement, because it's not intentional exercise.
Q: Should that be 10 consecutive minutes?
A: We don't know the ideal way to break up sitting time. We don't know if doing 10 consecutive minutes every hour is better than doing five minutes of activity every half hour, but we do know people need to get up and move more. It could be a short walk around the house or mall, pacing while on the phone, gardening, cooking. Data show that getting up intermittently throughout the day might reduce the ill effects of prolonged sitting.
Q: What are some other ideas for moving more?
A: Take a quick walk around the block before your morning shower; take a 15-minute catch-up walk with your partner; walk with your grandchildren; bring a meal to an elderly person; walk around the living room during the TV ads; pace while folding laundry; march in place whenever you can; garden; work on a home repair project; decorate your home; go dancing; shop in the mall instead of on the Internet.
Q: Do you also recommend that adults try to meet the government's physical-activity guidelines of at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, such as brisk walking, or 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity, such as jogging or swimming laps, or a combination of the two types?
A: Absolutely. But in addition to doing that, you need to move every hour for at least 10 minutes.
Q: What if you have physical disabilities?
A: One person I work with who is wheelchair-bound does a whole routine every hour of arm press-ups and arm dances to music. People who are wobbly on their legs or have had hip replacements need to check their homes to eliminate trip zones. For them, being active reduces their risk of falling. If they are physically active, their muscles are stronger, so they can steady themselves better. Plus, being active strengthens the bones.
Q: What words of encouragement do you have for people who aren't moving enough?
A: Get up. Once you get up, you're more likely to move. Once you start being active, you become more active.