“Excessive sitting is a lethal activity.”
Dr. James Levine, Researcher at the Mayo Clinic
There’s a particular kind of client I have had over the past few years for whom I feel much compassion.
Usually single, female, and highly compensated for their typical 12-hour days in the office, they seethe with frustration about their weight. By the time they come to me, they have usually tried multiple diets and possibly multiple fitness programs.
They have practically everything else in their lives under control. Why not their weight?
Now comes a great article in The New York Times recently that helps to give a very good clue.
Dr. James Levine, an obesity and activity researcher at the Mayor Clinic, has found that people in studies who gain weight sit for 2 or more hours per day than those who don’t gain weight.
Furthermore, he found that when people sit, “The muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse.” Calorie burning drops to 1 per minute, and insulin effectiveness, even in thin and healthy test subjects, drops 40 percent within 24 hours of prolonged sitting.
That would explain why my clients with office jobs frequently do not lose weight unless they are following programs light on processed carbohydrates and heavy on consistent exercise. They think I am being tough when I point out that they will have to keep this up to achieve their desired results. If I am so great at what I do, you can almost hear them thinking, why do they have to be so strict? Isn’t there some magic formula that somebody else has figured out?
Dr. Levine found that among men who sit for 6 or more hours per day, their death rate is 20 percent higher than those who sit for 3 hours or less.
Among women who sit for 6 hours or more per day, their death rate is 40 percent higher than among women who sit for 3 hours or less.
For each one hour of additional TV a person sat and watched, they experienced an 11 percent increased risk of dying, regardless of all other factors.
Which brings me back to something I often think about myself. Regardless of what I do for a living, I do not own a television. I own a dog who needs to be walked two or three times a day. I also live in a house with three floors, which is my in-home Stairmaster, especially considering that when I am on the bottom floor I often remember something I need on the top floor and have to climb up and go get it.
Over the years, some of my most health-challenged clients have included lawyers, who not only sit to do their jobs, they also sit and argue.
Whether sitting is more lethal than constant arguing is yet another discussion.
Five minutes of anger will raise the stress hormone cortisol for 6 hours. When your cortisol level is high, you tend to gain fat around the belly button.
Dr. Levine came up with a term NEAT – Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. These are small movements that everybody makes that do not include going to a gym. Obese people in his studies average only 1,500 daily movements and 600 minutes of sitting. Farm workers, on the other hand, average 5,000 daily movements and only 300 minutes of sitting.
So many people rail against the idea of a regular exercise program. Here are a few of the suggestions I have given over the years to my clients with office jobs:
Count up how many minutes you spend sitting during a typical day in your job. If you spend 6 hour or more hours sitting, realize that in my professional opinion, you will need to be very consistent with daily movement in order to combat weight gain and/or to improve your body composition.
Take out your watch. Time a 5-minute, uninterrupted walk from your desk to a designated spot in your building. This is very important and I am not kidding.
Take this short walk to and from your desk and you now have accomplished 10 minutes of exercise.
Do this three times a day and you will have actually accumulated 30 minutes of movement. This is what I call a stealth exercise program. Nobody but you needs to know that you are actually working out. You don’t even need to wear sneakers.
Keep this up 5 days a week, and you will have accumulated 2 ½ hours of exercise on the job without joining a fitness program, buying stretchy exercise pants or trying to figure out which gym you will be least likely to avoid.
If you need to look more official, bring your cell phone and ear buds and continue work conversations while you are walking. You will look very busy and important, impressing passers by with your apparent dedication to your job. If you start to get excited about this and want to measure your progress, get a pedometer app for your smart phone and start measuring how many steps you are taking.
Sit on an inflated Swiss ball at least part of the time you are at your desk. The tiny movements you will have to do to stabilize yourself and not fall off the ball will strengthen your core.
Get up from your desk and do chest, lat and shoulder stretches in the doorway for a minute or two.
If you are an A plus type of individual who really wants to get better, come to my qi gong class and learn simple exercises you can do for just 5 minutes standing in your office every afternoon to increase your energy.
If you are absolutely not able to get up and move for whatever reason, do deep breathing exercises at your desk. Not only will your stress level go down, your metabolic rate will actually go up. The rate at which your body burns oxygen and uses fuel determines your metabolism. Years ago, a friend of mine who was a naturopath in town borrowed an oxygen meter from a nearby hospital. Just for fun, he measured the oxygen level of all the staff people in his office. He told me that if they had been hospitalized that they would have all needed supplemental oxygen. What the article in The New York Times did not explain is that when you sit for interminable hours, your oxygen level drops, which affects the amount of oxygen going to your brain to help with clear thinking. Several years ago, one of my yoga students took it upon herself to start doing yoga breathing all day long every day. Even though she had an office job, she lost 22 lbs. doing yoga breathing, despite the fact that she was only coming to yoga class once a week. I would not have believed this story myself if I had not actually witnessed it in progress.
My core belief is that movement IS life. When we get stuck in our patterns and don’t move hardly at all, that affects not only how we look and how we feel but also restricts our ability to think any different thoughts. Get up out of your chair and go be somebody.