Seems like a second full-time job, doesn’t it? If you’re meeting those goals (I admit I’m not), congratulations. The benefits to your long-term health are indisputable.
But now comes sobering news from the American College of Sports Medicine that it might not be enough. For the first time, the world’s largest exercise and sports science organization is singling out our sedentary lifestyle as a health risk factor, regardless of whether we’re getting the proper amount of exercise.
That’s right. You might be working out like a football player at training camp, but if you spend another nine hours each day in front of a computer screen and a few more on the couch watching “How I Met Your Mother” reruns, you’re still endangering your health. And don’t forget that time in the car commuting between your desk and the TV. Or your video game habit.
“Sedentary behavior — sitting for long periods of time — is distinct from physical activity and has been shown to be a health risk in itself. Meeting the guidelines for physical activity does not make up for a sedentary lifestyle,” the ACSM said in the first recent overhaul of its comprehensive recommendations.
Gee, thanks, guys.
This depressing declaration became necessary because “unfortunately there’s been increasing amounts of research that sitting a lot is bad for your health, and that’s true even if you do attain the recommended amount of exercise,” said Carol Ewing Garber, chairman of the group that wrote the new guidelines and an associate professor of movement science at Columbia University. “And that’s quite worrisome on a number of levels, because most people don’t get the recommended amount of exercise.”
Adults spend 60 percent or more of their waking hours sedentary, according to a 2010 review of numerous studies over the past decade, conducted by a group of researchers from Australia and the United States. (Most of the data were gathered by connecting people to accelerometers to measure how long they are still.)
The risks of sitting all day are the ones you’d expect: increased chance of heart disease and diabetes. According to the Canada Fitness Surveys, people who sit a lot showed “significantly poorer long-term mortality outcomes” than those who didn’t. That was true “even among those who were physically active.”
“You don’t want to be engaged in prolonged periods of sedentary behavior,” said Marc Hamilton, a professor of inactivity physiology at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. “Now what is prolonged? Is it 10 minutes? Is it 20 minutes?”
Although the reasons sitting is so bad for you are not totally understood, muscles compose a large part of our bodies and are critical in regulating carbohydrate and fat metabolism, Hamilton said. Keep them still for hour upon hour, and you simply won’t burn as many calories as you would if you were moving.