Taking breaks, moving, or just standing helps keep your body healthy.
Posted January 31, 2011
More and more studies demonstrate that sitting down is hazardous to your health.
Yet moving, even standing for a minute, marks a positive change. So it’s time to stand up and take charge of your health.
Scotland and America
It’s strange to see two cohort studies of approximately the same size (4,300 and 4,700 participants) start in the same year (2003) look at different measures (amount and times of getting up and moving, leisure time in front of a monitor or TV) and end up with virtually the same conclusions. Clinical science doesn’t usually work that way.
Unless the studies are telling us that there really is an important effect.
The American study, with its lead author working in water-logged Queensland, Australia, found that getting up from your desk was healthy—really healthy. Waistlines for the top quartile of brief movers (average break 4 minutes) were 1.61 inches smaller than that of the lowest quartile—or as one reporter put it “two pant sizes smaller.” For those who moved less there were also higher levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, as well as higher fat levels in the blood.
The Scottish study looked at leisure time. Those who spent more than 4 hours per day on the computer or monitor after work saw an increase of cardiovascular related deaths of 48%, and of cardiovascular disease in general of 125%. C reactive protein went up. Higher fat levels were seen in the blood.
As in another recent study of sedentary time, athletic exercise made some difference, but not as much as hoped. Sit too much and death rates and markers for deadly diseases increased.
What’s going on?
Human Design and Work Design
Humans did not evolve to sit all day. If you look at the hunter gatherer societies that mirror what happened for perhaps 99% plus of human evolution, you see they move around—a lot, though not particularly quickly. They stroll and halt, stop and start. Data are such populations usually walk 12 or more miles a day, in little bits throughout the day.
Since the industrial revolution, people have kept more and more in place. With the information technology revolution, they are bonding more and more with their machines.
Unfortunately, this works to the peril of their overall health. It may be nice to be connected so completely with the virtual world, but as noted in the series on “The Internet and Your Body” (see blog archive) and in a host of other studies, it’s getting clear that even marathon runners are at risk when they sit too much. The more we sit:
The higher the heart disease rate
The higher the death rate
The greater the social dissociation and isolation.
Cyborgs and Mollusks
As IT (information technology) advances more gadgets will appear to connect you with other gadgets. Very soon you will be able to watch computer monitors from your glasses, wear health related gear with continuous updates on your blood pressure, heart rate, and energy use, and activate most of your household appliances through voice commands. Youngsters may yearn to become cyborgs, characters in movies like “The Matrix,” able to boot their brains into large artificial universes. The older generation will sit back and watch from increasingly large high definition monitors, glued to their seats as their remote controls allow them simultaneous images of their homes, neighborhoods, and favorite political pundits.
Yet before the world of cyborgs and mollusks arrives we will need to wake up. We need to wake up to the challenge of regenerating ourselves as the way to health.
And that regeneration means that we move and we rest in a cycle through the day that mirrors the body clocks that time our lives. That we get out into our environment and recognize that it must regenerate like us to remain healthy, or it will decline and die. And as it declines so will our ability to live in our homes, drive to work and survive the increasing economic, ecologic, and political volatility of post-industrial society.
The answer for yourself is simple—use your body the way it’s built. Take breaks or you’ll make mistakes—not just mistakes on the job, but potentially lethal ones for your health.
Simple techniques may do more than increase daily productivity and decrease stress—they may also help save your life.As the Scottish and American studies demonstrate, the real benefits accrue when you actively, not passively, rest during the day. Techniques long advocated like getting up and walking over to your co-worker for a couple of minutes may do more than
So think of what you can do, minute by minute and hour by hour, to regenerate your body. That’s how your body lives—rebuilding itself based on the information you give it.
It’s time to stand up for your health—and yourself.
Dr. Matthew Edlund, M.D., M.O.H., is an internationally recognized expert on rest, sleep, and body clocks. His books include The Body Clock Advantage, Designed to Last, and Psychological Time and Mental Illness. His new book, The Power of Rest, shows that rest is a skill that rebuilds, renews, and rewires mind and body, and can increase productivity, health, and pleasure. For more information, visit his website, TheRestDoctor.com. You can also subscribe to his new Fitcast via the iTunes Store.