Here’s a short quiz for you.
Thirty minutes of vigorous physical activity offsets the effects of how many minutes sitting at a computer?
A. Five minutes
B. Thirty minutes
C. One hour
D. None at all
Which is healthier?
A. Watching a movie on DVD
B. Watching the same movie on commercial television
C. There is no difference
Allowing for an 8-hour sleep at night (a lot of people get lots less), how much of the remaining 16 hours out of each 24 does the average North Americans spend sitting?
Taking a lazy afternoon to lie down and read a book has what affect on health?
A. None at all
B. Contributes to worse health
C. Contributes to better health
D. Is so individual that no general statement can be made
I didn’t like the answers. You may not either. The bottom line: sitting kills.
Studies done both in Canada and Australia and summarized in a recent Scientific American showed a link between sitting and increased death rate. Even when factors such as age, gender, smoking, physical activity, alcohol intake, waist circumference, and body weight were taken into consideration, sitting raised the death rate in each category by somewhere between 11 and 50%. If you are sitting for long periods every day, being physically active for the recommended 60 minutes a day may do other good things for your body, but it does not reverse the effects of sitting. So the answer to the first question is D, no amount of physical activity offsets the effects of sitting.
You think sitting it bad? Try sitting and food, and I’m not talking about having a bag of chips during the football game or a bowl of ice cream while watching a movie. One of the unhealthiest activities appears to be watching food commercials. Six hours a day of commercial television (with commercials) increased children's calorie intake almost 200 calories a day. Children who watched the same amount of television, but all of it non-commercial stations or DVDs did not have the increased calorie intake. So the answer to the second question is that watching a DVD is apparently healthier than commercial television.
The answer to the third question is a walloping 50%. Eight hours allotted out of every twenty-four for sleep, eight hours spent sitting, and eight hours for everything else in life. I don’t suspect, I know that I spend more than eight hours most days sitting, mostly at the computer, but also in my car, or at a desk. And what about those nice relaxing afternoons when I take a book to bed and read? It’s research after all; I’m learning how other authors write.
Six hours of sedentary behavior (one day at the computer or one afternoon in bed), in both lean and not-so-lean individuals, increases blood triglycerides, decreases healthy cholesterol, and increases insulin resistance, even if you’re getting that recommended 60 minutes of physical exercise a day. So taking a lazy afternoon to read a book might be great for the mind, but it’s lousy for the body.
There is some good news in all of this. Undoing the negative effects of sitting or lying down can be reversed by walking for a few minutes at a leisurely pace, as long as you take frequent, short breaks, say 5 to 10 minutes out of each hour. And no, it’s not cumulative. Working for 4 hours and then taking a 20 minute break doesn’t produce the same benefits as working for 55 minutes, taking a five-minute break, and repeating this pattern three more times.
As writers, we are world-class sitters. We owe it to ourselves to set a timer and get up for 5 or 10 minutes every hour. And we owe it to other writers to make sure that every time we teach, we give people 5 or 10 minutes per hour to get up and move around. Starting tomorrow morning, I’m setting my timer.
Quote for the week
Keep on going, and the chances are that you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I never heard of anyone ever stumbling on something sitting down.
~Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958), American engineer