Ask the Doctors: Even while working at home, keep your body moving
Prolonged sitting is really bad for your health. Long stretches of sitting required by many jobs are putting people at risk for a number of health problems.
Dear Doctors: I’ve been working from home for six months, so no more bike commutes and no office staircases. My two young kids are home, too, which means I can’t do a lunchtime bike ride or even go during a break. How bad is it that I’m sitting way more than ever?
Answer. Yes, prolonged sitting is bad for your health.
Long stretches of sitting required by many jobs are putting people at risk for a host of health problems.
Among them: weight gain and obesity, increases in abdominal fat, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
These factors are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer as well as early death.
Add in the mental health side effects of prolonged inactivity, such as depression and anxiety, and it’s easy to see how the term “sitting disease” came about.
Relatively speaking it wasn’t that long ago — OK, the Industrial Revolution — that humans began to sit for extended periods. Till then, staying fed, clothed, housed, protected and entertained kept us moving.
With more than 600 muscles in our bodies, it’s what we’re built to do. This includes walking, running, reaching, climbing, stretching, swimming, twisting, crawling, jumping, bending and lifting throughout long and mostly active days.
And while disease, hunger and hardship took their toll in the agrarian world, it seems with increasingly sedentary work and play we’ve traded one set of health problems for another.
Only two of every 10 workers have active jobs — down about 80% since 1950.
The combination of desk work, passive transportation and the increasingly sedentary nature of entertainment and play has many people staying seated for 10 hours or more a day. That’s the number researchers have associated with a marked increase in cardiac risk.
Even during the pandemic, which has robbed us of our normal lives, we need to get creative and get moving.
It doesn’t take much. A study that tracked the mortality rate of 8,000 adults 45 and older for four years found that trading 30 seated minutes for the same amount of moderate or vigorous activity lowered the risk of early death by 35%.
Previous research has found that a relatively long duration of sitting — an hour or more at a stretch — is a healthrisk factor. People who sat for 30 minutes or less at a time fared best.
We need to work regular movement into each day. Maybe set a timer to walk a few minutes every half hour. Get some hand weights and lift throughout the day. Get your kids involved: Run and jump and stretch, chase each other around the house, have parades, enjoy moments of planned chaos, take walks together, do yoga, practice deep breathing, ride bikes. Make it a goal to work movement into your family’s lives.
Dr. Eve Glazier is an internist and associate professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Dr. Elizabeth Ko is an internist and assistant professor of medicine at UCLA Health.