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Get Up, Get Moving
Is sitting the new smoking?
Nia class
Friday Nia class at the True Nature Healing Arts in Carbondale. - photo by Steve Alldredge

Hundreds of articles have been written during the last few years based on the premise that “sitting is the new smoking.” While a recent counterpoint study by researchers from Canada, the United States and Australia takes issue with that concept, their main point is that that smoking is far worse for you, rather than stating that sitting is good for you. 

According to a multitude of medical professionals, cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and back pain can all be reduced by spending less time each day sitting, whether it’s in an office by day or at night in front of the TV or screen.

“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death. The chair is out to kill us,” says James Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, and the man credited with the saying, ‘sitting is the new smoking.’”

But what do you do if you have a job like an officer worker, air traffic controller or journalist that requires long stretches of sitting?

Linda Loeschen is a Mid-Valley fitness professional of many years: “Be aware.  Exercise is a preachy word. Makes you think ‘I should sweat’ or ‘I should beat myself up and do more reps.’ But I like to think more in terms of our daily activities. 

“Even at your desk, how about turning from the waist and keeping the pelvis quiet or turning just the pelvis and keeping the upper body quiet? How about squeezing the shoulder blades together and then opening as far as they will go? That’s moving! When you stop moving, even picking up a newspaper becomes a painful endeavor, so don’t stop, keep moving.”

Even if you work out regularly, sitting for long periods of time each day changes your metabolism and increases heart disease, so it’s important to find ways to build movement into your daily routine.  

Health experts recommend that you get up every 20 minutes and walk around or stretch. Standing desks have become more popular because they decrease the amount of time a worker sits each day.

Working out Tuesday at the Carbondale Rec center. - photo by Katie Hankinson
Timothy Church, a researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., offers the following suggestions to help you add more movement to your workday:

Drink a lot of water. Besides being a good habit, it will make you get up and walk to the bathroom often. And use a bathroom that’s farther away if possible.

Go to a colleague’s desk if you have a question as opposed to sending them an email.

Have walking meetings.

Set an alarm on your phone or computer to stand or move every 20 minutes.

Park farther from the entrance.

If you take public transportation, get off one stop early and walk farther.

Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

It’s also important to program exercise into your weekly routine.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. Brisk walking or light biking are two examples of moderate exercise; vigorous movement would be jogging, fast cycling or participating in a basketball or soccer game. But even if you are not mobile, you can find ways to stretch, move your arms and/or legs and increase your heart rate.

Remember, every body is different, so fitness experts often caution that you should never start a new exercise routine or activity without consulting your doctor to ensure that it is safe for your body.

Kerry Kleisner is a Mid-Valley yoga teacher with 20 years of experience. 

“It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you do not have enough time to prepare healthier food, take that walk around your neighborhood or spend 10 minutes smoothing out your breath and being present with what is happening in your mind,” notes Kleisner. 

“Practicing wellness leads to heightened awareness of your actions, your thoughts and your feelings — you intuitively become more efficient, you eliminate whatever does not serve your desire for increased well being and it takes less effort to make healthy choices.”

Pleasurable benefit

One more benefit of increased aerobic activity is a better sex life. A new study published in the August volume of the Journal of Sexual Medicine suggests higher levels of aerobic exercise may further improve sexual performance, stamina and desire in active men and women. 

“Anything that supports the cardiovascular system is going to support a man or woman’s sexual response,” says sex therapist and educator Laura Berman. “The healthier your blood flow, the better your arousal.”

An activity that has been found to be extremely beneficial for individuals is dance. Dance strengthens muscles, improves your flexibility, balance and stability, and dance can even improve your cognitive ability and memory.

A new study published in the open-access journal “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,” shows that older people who routinely partake in physical exercise can significantly reverse the aging of the brain. While many physical activities were examined in the experiment, one exercise towered above all the rest — dancing.

“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,” says Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, Germany. 

“In this study, we show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that leads to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance.”

So, get up and get moving. You can mow the lawn, clean the house, walk the dog, or take a movement class like Zumba, tango, line dancing or Nia. Your body will thank you. 

In addition to writing, Steve Alldredge is a black belt Nia teacher who has been teaching to Mid-Valley locals for the last 13 years.