Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stand Up and Pay Attention

Sharon Wildwind

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?
A. 70%
B. 50%
C. 30%
D. 25%

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


Julia Buckley said...

Wow. I sit all the time. I'm sitting now. :) Thanks for this info, Sharon. I have a new New Year's resolution.

Sandra Parshall said...

I must learn to write standing up.

TheaMinPA said...

very sobering info! I knew sitting was bad for me, but didn't realize the magnitude - certainly is an incentive to be active for at least 5 minutes every hour!

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for the reminder, Sharon! We writers also need to get up periodically and stretch to keep from getting kinks in our backs and necks, as my massage therapist keeps reminding me. As for me, I TRY to get an hour of exercise every day, though I don't always make it, and I do a lot of my reading either on my exercise bike or laying in bed before going to sleep.

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

Eek! I didn't know any of that. How scary. Time to set my 55 minute timer.

Anonymous said...

Looks like we're all on the same page, which is good. I wish it were possible to write standing up.

Marilynne said...

Almost everything I like to do involves sitting. However, lately, I've been breaking up my sitting by doing a household chore in-between tasks. It helps me stay awake and interested.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Very good advice. I was using the cumlative method - sit for hours and then be active longer. Now I'll try the frequent short break method.

Sandra Parshall said...

I read an article once about a businessman who had a treadmill placed in every office and told employees to work as much as possible while walking slowly -- one mph -- on the treadmill. That helped a lot of the employees lose weight.

Rhonda Lane said...

Wow. No wonder I can't lose weight worth a flip. But five minutes an hour? Hmm... Thanks for the wake-up call, Beth.

Rhonda Lane said...

Don't laugh. Like anyone who suddenly "got religion," I decided to spread it around. I've sent links to this post and the SA article source to my other writer's groups.

Caridad Pineiro said...

Wow, very interesting. I am always sitting at work, but will now make it a point to get up every hour and walk around a bit. Thank you for sharing.

Rhonda Lane said...

This post inspired Cassy Pickard and me. In between 5-minute bouts of exercise - plus working on our books and other blogs - we managed to whip up this post for Mysteries and Margaritas.


Anonymous said...

This is wonderful. We might be the seeds of a whole new Physically Active for Five Minutes movement!

In my 5 to 10 minutes this week, I wrapped three packages for mailing, cleaned off my art project table, and found some magazines that had been missing for months.

Rhonda Lane said...

Wow - look at all you accomplished, Sharon. :) If I try to chip away at big projects in 5 or 10, I'm liable to a) get on a roll and stick with THAT or b) get discouraged by what I'd interpret as little progress. Still, it's up and down and moving around. So I need to keep an open mind about adopting that myself, too. Thanks!