A recent study by the American Heart Association shows that over 70% of Americans are overweight, and of those, over 30 percent are obese. With the recent advances in medical technology, nutrition and exercise, you’d think we would all have the bodies of superheroes by now.. What has gone so terribly wrong that we are actually becoming more unhealthy? The answer might make you want to stand up and stretch your legs a bit. At the turn of the 20th century, obesity was far more rare a problem than it is today, as were the associated medical conditions which often result such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The reason, many biologists and MD’s now believe, was a much more active lifestyle driven by agricultural and industrial jobs that required higher levels of physical activity than desk jobs of today. In addition to long hours of sitting at work, the lure of TV, video games, and the internet keeps us more sedentary than ever before. Recent studies have shown that Americans spend an average of 9.3 hours per day sitting on their asses, which is an hour and a half longer than we spend sleeping each night. After I read an article about this, I began an online odyssey of research which led me deep into the rabbit hole of sedentary health issues. Here’s some scary statistics that I found:

  • Obese people sit for an average of 2.5 hours per day longer than thinner people.
  • Sitting for more than six hours per day makes you 40% likelier to die within the next 15 years than someone who sits for less than 3 hours per day. Even if you work out.
  • Sitting expends almost no energy at all. When you sit, you burn around 1 calorie per minute. (You can burn 3 times as much energy just by standing up.)
  • While in a seated position, all electrical activity in your leg muscles stops. According to University of Missouri microbiologist Marc Hamilton, “the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse”.
  • When you’re sitting, enzymes that break down fat drop by 90%, causing levels of good (HDL) cholesterol to fall.
  •  Excessive sitting (especially the hunched over, office chair sort) can lead to increased back pain, spinal alignment problems, bulging disks, and muscular atrophy.
  • Those who sit more than 6 hours per day could also experience loss of bone density which can lead to early onset osteoporosis.

Of course, proper nutrition also plays a very important role in preventing obesity and its related health issues, but it appears that sedentary lifestyles could be a huge factor as well. Even if your weight isn’t an issue though, who wants bulging discs and osteoporosis?

How to Get Off Your Ass More and Beat the Seat:

  • Do mini-workouts through the day. Most people think that working out is something that you do for 30 minutes to an hour 3-4 times a week, and it requires a special building and a pair of tight shorts. Just 3-4 generations ago, people worked out all day because their industrial and agricultural jobs required it. Instead of sitting at your desk for 7 hours straight, stand up for 5 minutes out of every hour and do body weight squats, stretches, ab crunches, push ups, or planks. Even a few minutes of stretching or walking around could make a big difference.
  • Shut off your cable/satellite service. What do most people do after sitting at their desks for 7-9 hours per day? Plop down on their couch once they get home and sit some more. Nothing can turn you into a couch potato at home faster than signing up for that deluxe 500 channel plan and vegging out on the sofa for 3-4 hours watching UFO Hunters. People who watch TV for more than 3 hours per day are 65% more likely to die of heart disease. Exercise can’t undo the damage either; studies show that people who plop down in front of the tube for more than 3 hours per day gain weight whether they exercise or not. I don’t want to sound like a complete hippie, but passing on cable TV was one of the best moves that I made over the last few years to stay highly active at home and foster creativity. Try buying seasons of your favorite shows on DVD or watching them on the internet. This keeps you from using the TV as a time killer or diversion, plus you’ll save $30-50 per month!
  • Dance. If you’re reading this on my personal blog, you already know I’m really biased toward this activity, but it’s also been advocated by scientists and doctors. Dancing is a total body form of exercise which helps to create balanced musculature and tensile strength, as well as excellent cardiovascular conditioning. Many popular forms of exercise focus on isolation exercises which work individual muscles rather than training the body to work as a whole. Dancing also helps to develop balance and muscular coordination which many people lose with hours sitting at computers and vegging out on the couch. Schedule dance time throughout the week by taking classes after work, doing dance workouts online or from DVDs, and finding social dance outlets.

Will staying on your feet magically cure all your health issues? No. As a professional dancer, I get minor injuries all the time and suffer from some minor to moderate joint pain chronically. As organic beings, we’re always going to encounter physical difficulties and health problems, but getting off your ass and staying active is an important part of maintaining your health and getting the full enjoyment out of life. Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, nutritionist, exercise physiologist, or a physical therapist. Always consult a physician before beginning a new exercise regimen or major lifestyle change. Here are some of the articles I read to research for this article: