I’m reprinting here an earlier blog, in response to headlines I read yesterday from Gretchen Reynolds of the New York Times (see her article at “You May Want to Stand Up For This: Sitting is Bad”, and “Get Up. Get Out. Don’t Sit.” In other words, the research first emerging in 2005 continues to be reinforced in many subsequent studies. I think it’s good news–sitting less seems a reasonable and reachable goal–and one that has clear payoffs in health and weight.

“Sitting = Death”. This headline delivers a bit of a jolt. The story that it introduced, though, simply reported another study of what I call “incidental exercise” in the EatSanely workbook Others have used the term “non-exercise activity”. What these studies show is that heavy-duty exercise is not the only factor in the exercise-weight equation. The relationship between exercise and weight, in fact, proves much more complicated than previously thought. How much you move, day in and day out, even without planned “exercise”, affects your weight in significant ways.

One of first reports on non-exercise activity came from the Mayo Clinic in 2005, where studies found differences in how much individuals are inclined to move around. Not surprisingly, those who move around more tend to struggle less with weight. And it wasn’t just that heavy people found it harder to move because of their weight—it seemed more of built-in preference. People who don’t naturally feel as compelled to move, though, could learn to incorporate more of this “every day” kind of movement into their lives. Those who did reaped benefits.

Since then, other studies have reached similar conclusions. One, for example, found that people in a test group who spent several hours per day in a wheelchair gained more weight than those who didn’t, even with other factors held constant. Any movement beats sitting, the researchers concluded. The “sitting = death” headline emerged from a similar recent finding.

To me, this all points to a simple way to introduce change for the better into one’s life. If you think about the “one small change” ideas (see the 1/4/10 and 3/5/10 blogs, as well as others), then something as small as “not sitting” could become a doorway to other changes, both small and large, that can keep weight in a healthier place in the long run.

“Not sitting” heads the list of incidental, or non-exercise, activity. You can also start to think, as often as you possibly can, of using your body to do things instead of a machine. Use stairs, not elevators or escalators. Pull into a lot, park in the first space you see, and walk the rest of the way. Don’t use drive-throughs. For errands scattered in several spots, park in a central location and walk to each. Return to your car to set down bags as needed. Even better, ride your bike if you won’t have many bags. (These days, a lot of what you’d call incidental exercise also turns out to help the environment and to save money at the same time.)

You can get up and do things rather than waiting. For example, instead of waiting for someone else to come home and bring in the mail, go get it now. If you’ve got copying to do at work, go do it, rather than wait until later. Walk downstairs to check your laundry now. Don’t wait for your teenager to come home to finish it.

Finally, think about movement you can add into your “usually sitting” activities. Stand up during some of your work phone calls. Do leg lifts under your desk when you think of it. Get up, stretch, and circle your arms every half-hour. For a small meeting, arrange to walk and talk rather than meet in an office. Some of this may sound odd, but think of one of those Mayo Clinic researchers: he was so impressed with the study results, he installed a treadmill in his office. He keeps it at a low pace and walks it for much of his day, whether he’s on the phone or interviewing patients.

So, if you’re not already….why not stand up right now?


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