About half of all adult Americans have at least one chronic illness. At least one. Twenty-five percent have two or more.
One hundred seventeen million people sick – and they don’t have to be.
For chronic disease is largely preventable simply through the choices we make each day: What we eat. How much physical activity we get. How much and how well we sleep. How we manage stress.
Perhaps it’s more than just mere coincidence that those dealing with chronic health conditions number about as many as those who fail to meet the minimum activity recommendations: 48%. Almost one quarter of adults – 22.6%, to be exact – say they do no physical activity or exercise outside of work.
Zero. Nada. Zilch.
That’s some inertia! And a good summation of why the typical American lifestyle is practically synonymous with a sedentary lifestyle.
Get Moving! (Science Says)
Over the years, scientific research has shown that getting enough physical activity lowers your risk of a number of chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes, depression, stroke, cancer, obesity, and, of course, heart disease.
Which brings us to a study published late last year in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. An analysis of 5 years of data from over 2300 adults found that those who were more active during their leisure time showed more improvement in a variety of cardiovascular health measures. The more time people spent their leisure time sitting, the worse their cardiorespiratory and metabolic health.
Not that sitting at work isn’t a problem, too. Perhaps one of the best studies of this was published a few years ago in JAMA. For one, it was huge: It analyzed data from more than 222,000 participants, incorporating over a half million person-years of follow-up. And what did they find? People who sat 11 or more hours each day had a 40% higher risk of death from any cause than those who sat 4 hours or fewer.
And here’s the kicker: It didn’t matter if they exercised or not. “Prolonged sitting,” wrote the authors, “is a risk factor for all-cause mortality, independent of physical activity.”
The adverse effects of prolonged sitting are thought to be mainly owing to reduced metabolic and vascular health. Prolonged sitting has been shown to disrupt metabolic function, resulting in increased plasma triglyceride levels, decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and decreased insulin sensitivity, which appear to be at least partially mediated by changes in lipoprotein lipase activity. It has also been suggested that sedentary behavior affects carbohydrate metabolism through changes in muscle glucose transporter protein content. Results from molecular biology and medical chemistry studies have suggested that physical activity and sedentary behavior have different influences on the body, supporting their independent effects on health. Our findings suggested not only an association between sitting and all-cause mortality that was independent of physical activity but, because the findings persisted after adjustment and stratification for BMI, one that also appears to be independent of BMI. [emphasis added]
So Does Exercise Not Matter?
Oh, it does. A lot. If you’re healthy, it can lower your risk of heart disease. If you have heart disease, it can play a role in reversing it. Other recent research suggests that if you’re more physically fit yet do develop heart problems, you improve your chances of survival if you experience a heart attack.
How much exercise is enough? Current guidelines suggest 2 ½ hours of moderate intensity physical activity each week, along with at least 2 days of muscle-strengthening activity each week.
But just as important is spending more of your day up and active, not sitting. It’s vital – in the literal sense of that word – to get more movement into your day. Some ideas for making that happen:
- Take frequent – hourly – stretch breaks. Stand up, stretch and walk around a bit. Even do some desk-side exercises.
- Stand up, walk, and speak to co-workers face to face instead of emailing, texting or calling.
- Make a short walk – 20 minutes, say – a part of your usual lunch routine.
- If feasible, walk or bike to work – taking public transit part of the way if you need to.
- Walk when you’re on the phone.
- Get involved in leisure activities that get you out of the house. Volunteer. Take a class. Join an interest group. It’s not so much about getting vigorous or even moderate physical activity as creating opportunities to be on your feet more, up and about and active!
Your body was designed to move. It can’t operate as well or efficiently as designed if you don’t use it regularly. It’s like a car left idle for a long time. Eventually, it won’t run so well – if at all. Regular use helps keep its engine and all moving parts in good working order.
Same goes for your body. As they say, use it – or lose it.