Sitting too much? Most of us are and it's as bad for us as smoking.


In these 'new normal' times many are using their old commuting time to get out and exercise but for many others, the time driving, riding transit and walking has been replaced with sitting and looking at a screen. Now that we are allowed into public spaces and are wearing something other than yoga pants, track pants and PJs there are other signs of troubles in paradise. Clothes are getting snugger, not looser.

Even before COVID-19 Canadians were being advised that they were sitting too much.  Before we were working from home full time most of us were sedentary for most of our waking hours, sitting up to 66% of the day. Healthcare professionals have labelled sitting as the new smoking due to the negative health impacts it has.

Cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes are all on the rise and are strongly influenced by the lack of movement. The even worse news is that it seems that exercising once a day isn’t a cure-all for this inactivity. Even with regular exercise, you cannot undo the damage to your health caused by sitting too much.

Research from the University of Toronto has shown that small ‘hits’ of exercise throughout the day are much more effective at reducing insulin levels than once a day or every two days trip to the gym are. Exercise bursts that last a minute and can be done while at your desk include a set of simple exercises for a minute several times a day.

Examples of this include chair stands, or a quick trip up and down the stairs or a two-minute walk around the house. Think about doing 15 chair stands, go up and down the stairs (with laundry if you are multi-tasking), taking the ‘long way’ to the bathroom and walking for a minute in place or through your apartment. You could even set your stationary bike or treadmill up in your office and use them for 2 minutes regularly in the day.

The same researchers suggest an exercise break every half hour which coincides nicely with a break for your eyes from the screen. This can be a tough goal to attain though. Strategies for attaining at least hourly breaks include scheduling them in your calendar or setting your alarm. It can be as easy as intentionally moving your office set up farther from your coffee and snack station, or making it a hard and fast rule for yourself that every time you need to get up you do an exercise hit as well.

It is important to note that while these little exercise hits are better for you than doing nothing, they do not replace the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical exercise weekly and regular muscle strengthening exercise that Health Canada has long advocated.

If your pants are tight, if you are feeling irritable, or if you notice you are sitting around a lot more than you used to why not give this strategy a try. It can’t hurt.

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