Sedentary Behavior Hurts Health
Some call Sedentary Behavior the new smoking. What they mean is that policymakers are beginning to focus on eliminating/reducing sedentary behavior. Evidence over the past decade demonstrates that sedentary behavior such as lying on the couch watching television is a significant health risk. Importantly, it is a risk that is independent of other physical activity. (In the Science News section, see Sedentary Behavior and Health.)
The good news is that when we reduce total sedentary time, health outcomes improve. In the risk reduction example below, we use 10% reduction to start.
Research also shows that when bouts of sedentary behavior are less than 30 minutes, health status benefits. An interruption of 2-5 minutes every half hour might be a perfect place to begin this lifesaver, to start improving health!
Suggestions for Moving More
When some of you took the Falls Prevention Survey that asked for your Move More suggestions, there were many good ideas. I will list them here and note whether they seem to be ways to reduce (R) total sedentary time or interrupt (I) sedentary time or both.
- Don’t get too comfortable (R, I)
- Take more bathroom breaks (I)
- Refill water bottle (I)
- Create a walk path in the house (I)
- Have grandchildren (R, I)
- Walk around while on phone (R, I)
- Do squats/push-ups during breaks (I)
- Do yoga/treadmill/balance exercises during breaks (I)
- Print at the farthest away station (I)
- Use a stand-up desk (R)
- Walk around during commercials (I)
- Attend to pets (I)
- Set an app/alarm for reminders to get up (I)
- Do what moves you/develop interests that motivate (R, I)
Changing Sedentary Behavior
Reducing total time. Let’s say you begin with 10 hours a day of sedentary behavior. Are there any basic changes you can make to reduce that number by 10%? For instance, if you watch one hour of news/show each morning and evening, consider listening with a headset while doing a chore that you usually do in the morning, such as work in the garden. By doing this you are adding an hour of physical activity as well as reducing sedentary behavior by an hour. And you did it without missing any news/show.
Another way to reduce the total number might be to skip a sports game that is not critical. Can we agree that not every game is with an important competitor or a playoff game? If this thought horrifies you, then this strategy is not for you. But maybe there is a variation. For instance, could you use your headphones to listen to some games while going to the dog park?
Interrupting sedentary behavior. You will find the technique that works best for you. I want to share my personal favorite.
Last year at Thanksgiving, I spent a few days with my two-year-old great-nephew. We watched a basketball game together. I noticed whenever he heard the crowd cheering, he jumped up and down. It was contagious. When there was a basket or some other cause for celebration, I jumped up and down with him. We cheered and laughed. The next week I was back at home watching a game and realized what was missing. I began jumping up for every basket, or at least the great ones.
There are two lessons in my example above. First, getting up and down can be linked to fun events. This holds for any sport or good news moment. Second, a two-year old’s enjoyment with moving more (than an adult) can be a great role model.
Let’s Do It
Begin with your journal. Identify the goals.
Goal #1. Reduce total sedentary time. Example:
- Reduce total sitting by 10%. Track your sitting and lying down (while awake) time for a few days. Then write down what is 10% of that time.
- Identify what you will stop doing and what else you can do instead. You might drop a television show and add dog walking. You may stop watching the kids playing and join them at play.
Goal #2. Interrupt sedentary time. Example:
- Interrupt sedentary time purposefully. Maybe time on the telephone is a routine you have and a one hour call is typical.
- Plan the interruption. You might set an alarm for thirty minutes. At those intervals, get up and walk to a mailbox, or around the yard, or whatever will take a few minutes of activity.
Plan to start slow. It is too easy to say, “I tried it and it didn’t work,” when the problem was too high expectations, or need for more planning.
For instance, if you are trying to make a 10% reduction in total sedentary time by dropping one television show, you may want to begin by doing that twice a week, then four times the next week, and so on.
Find your own fun strategy, Keep tracking the behavior until you can see the new habit. Congratulations. You just began living well longer!