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Between driving to work, sitting in an office and watching television, the average American spends 13 hours sitting down each day. Add a healthy eight hours of sleep to that schedule, and it becomes a very unhealthy 21 hours of sedentary activity a day.

Researchers have found that the amount of time a person spends sitting can be linked to a wide range of health issues. Increased time spent sitting has been connected to obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excessive fat around the belly and heart disease. There is even an argument to be made that the uptick in sedentary lifestyles has contributed more to the American obesity epidemic than changes in the national diet.

Even if a person is not overweight, researchers have found that those who spend more than eight hours a day sitting without physical activity have similar health risks to a person who smokes or is obese. These include increased risks of death from cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.

Sitting allows the body to rest. When the body is sitting, the abdominal muscles that held the torso upright relax. The gluteus maximus and medius muscles, which drive motor function in the legs, are unused. The back muscles loosen up and allow the body to slump forward. It’s no wonder that the body burns fewer calories sitting than it does standing.

Underneath the underused muscles, the skeletal system is also suffering from the effects of extended sitting. A sedentary lifestyle increases a person’s risk of herniated lumbar discs. Any kind of weight bearing activity, including relatively low intensity activities like standing and walking, stimulates lower body bone density. Scientists have seen a connection between the uptick in osteoporosis and the increase in sedentary lifestyles.

The bottom line is that the less time a person spends sitting, the better.

So how does someone fit more movement into their day? Regular movement boosts natural antioxidants a reduces the risks for scores of chronic diseases, but sometimes it seems like the modern world is designed to keep people in their seats. They sit down to get to work, sit down at work and then sit down to unwind from a long day at work.

Fortunately there are some proven ways to reduce the effects of sitting that don’t involve quitting the office job, cutting the Internet cables and becoming a sheep herder in the Andes.

A study with 1 million participants found that 60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense exercise a day counteracted the effects of prolonged sitting.

Beyond exercise, there are numerous techniques that people can utilize during their work day.

For people with desk jobs, doctors recommend requesting a standing desk or improvising with a high counter. If that is not an option, replacing a traditional chair with a balance ball can help stimulate the stabilizing muscles. If neither of these changes are ideal, workers are encouraged to stand up every half an hour and walk for a little while.

Outside of the office, people can make small changes that add up to a big difference. Take the opportunity of a commercial break to stand up and walk around the house. Find the time to squeeze a ten minute walk into the day, even if that means parking on the far side of the lot.

Whenever possible, put a little more movement into the day. It could make all of the difference.

 

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