We all have heard that exercise is important and sitting too much in one place can cause a lot of irreversible damage to your health. We have all heard it but we are not completely aware of the implications it actually has on our body. We may not feel it now but we will in a few years time.
Spending six hours at a desk every day doubles the risk of heart attack. 86% population in America has a desk job and they are blissfully unaware of the dangers to their health. Since somebody has to do the job and we can’t all just stand up and quit, a discussion with a cardiologist, a personal trainer, and an optometrist tells us in detail what damage sitting so long causes and what steps we can take to improve.
How it affects the heart:
“The major things from a point of view of your heart is if you’re sitting your heart rate will lower, and this affects everything,” said Dr. Allan Stewart, MD, Director of Aortic Surgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The problematic factors include:
- Less Healthy foods.
“If you don’t have the ability to get up, you will just go with the food near you or that can be delivered to you, which tends to be less nutritious,” Dr. Stewart explains. “Also if you’re going to be sitting all day, you’re going to look for things that will give you a sugar rush for energy.”
- Fat build up.
“Muscles burn less fat because you’re less active. Because you have an increase in circulation of fatty acids and cholesterol to the heart, this increases your risk of a heart attack,” Dr. Stewart says. “Even if you go to the gym four times a week you won’t completely offset the damage of sitting for at least six hours a day. You will still have a higher risk of heart attack.”
- Insulin Resistance.
“We have also seen that people who sit for six hours a day are less sensitive to insulin.” continues the doctor. Insulin resistance is the problem in type 2 diabetes.
- Gaining Weight.
“If you are not moving your muscles, you’re not processing glucose enough, meaning you’ll have more fat around your ‘spare tire’ (i.e. belly and love handles),” Dr. Stewart warns.
Steps to Follow:
Doctors have given some advice on simple things that we can do that can restrict the damage from getting out of control.
- Stand as often as possible and take standing breaks every hour.
Dr. Stewart advises the working community to stand as often as possible, whether it is to attend a phone call or to get a drink of water. You should also take standing breaks every hour to stop the heart rate from going down to a sluggish level.
- Meetings on the go.
“If you have a meeting that doesn’t require sitting at a computer to look at a screen, why don’t you go for a walk if the conditions are nice,” the doctor suggests.
- A workout is important.
“Get an exercise ball and put it on an uneven surface so your core is engaged,” Dr. Stewart recommends. “Or put your laptop on a treadmill so you can walk while you work. You need to get 30 to 45 minutes of exercise at least four days a week,”
How it affects the muscles:
Moe Widdi, a master trainer at New York Health & Racquet Club has outlined the damage our muscles can go through in case of sitting in one place for a long time.
He says, “Believe it or not the less we sit, the better for our body’s natural state. We are a creation of labor. Sitting down for a majority of the day can increase our body’s risk for injury. All parts of the body work together, so if something is off it throws everything else off. Muscles begin to fire up differently and joints begin to change their working to help compensate. In addition, posture is extremely vital to a person’s life. It helps exude confidence, lessens the chance of injury, and can help you avoid asthma. When you develop poor posture, the shoulders close off towards the front of your body causing the back to round, restricting the lungs from getting efficient oxygen.”
Steps to Follow:
To avoid poor posture and keep the muscles active, Moe Widdi recommends a couple of exercises that you should repeat 4 times a week.
- Wall Slides:
Lay against a flat wall or mirror and flatten your back against it by contracting your core and tilting your pelvis to the back. Put your arms and hands against the wall making a football field goal. Tuck in your chin by trying to put the back of your head against the wall, and press against the mirror as you are sliding your hands up and down. By doing so you’re forcing the muscles we need in the back and neck to isolate and activate by keeping the back flat as you wall slide.
- Supinated Reverse Flys:
Keeping the same form for your back as the Wall Slides, grab a Thera band with your hands supinated (palms facing up) to externally rotate your shoulders which allows you to contract your back muscles more when you do a reverse fly. Keep hands straight out in front of you, elbows locked in.Then touch the wall with each rep if your range of motion permits.
How it affects the eyes:
The light from the screens is damaging to the eyes but the extent of the damage is still unknown and research is being carried out for that very purpose.
“The whole world is up close when you have a much higher neural demand from screens all day long,” explains Dr. Randy McLaughlin, an optometrist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “It means you’re going to notice and feel that strain more.”
Steps to Follow:
- Take vision breaks:
“We recommend that people take visual breaks every 20 to 30 minutes,” Dr. McLaughlin explains. “Look away and relax your eyes for at least 30 seconds. You don’t need to break your train of thought, just break your screen time for a moment.”
- Use eye-drops:
“Liquid eye drops from the pharmacy work well, and that can relieve dryness or eye strain,” he says.
- Regular checkups:
“A lot of people may assume that their eyes are fine, and when they get round to getting checked out in their 40s they’re embarrassed saying ‘I haven’t been since high school!’ Don’t worry – we’re not going to shame you for not coming! But we do recommend getting checked out every two years, just to make sure everything is fine.” said Dr. McLaughlin
These are the simple measures that you can take to stay protected and healthy.