We have all read and heard about the many benefits of exercise. Exercise has been shown to lower your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, improve cognitive function, fitness, improve your mood and reduce depression, and reduce the risk of cancer. It’s also been shown to change the T cells in cancer patients from unhealthy to healthy and create a low sugar environment that discouraged the growth and spread of cancer cells in patients who are already diagnosed.
So if you’re looking for an excuse to re-start your exercise plan, there are many! But did you know that if you are sedentary throughout most of your day, your risk of health concerns is much higher, even if you are a rigorous and religious exerciser?
Research shows that long periods of sitting have negative effects on our health that are not fully erased even if we demonstrate healthy habits after work. Movement, it turns out, is even more important for good health than exercise. Especially since I just read a statistic that more than 50% of men and women don’t engage in vigorous physical activity for more than 10 minutes a week which is not enough to attain any real health benefit. If you’re in that group, moving is even more important!
But even if you work out, it’s moving throughout the day that seems to make the biggest difference. USA Today recently reported the results of a study that revealed that the risk of heart failure was more than double for men who sat for five hours a day outside of work and didn’t exercise as compared to men who sat for less than two hours a day and were physically active. Men with the lowest risk were those who exercised the most and sat for less than two hours a day.
But while this may seem to highlight that men who exercise more are healthier, the study also confirmed that a regular fitness routine did NOT erase the effects of sitting for long durations. The study followed 82,000 men for 10 years and found that the increased risk correlations to sitting were true no matter how long they exercised. It wasn’t the exercise that made the difference: it was the amount of time spent sitting that played the biggest role in the men’s health risks.
Whether you are exercising regularly or not, if you want to improve your health, you should create time for movement breaks throughout the day. According to James Levine, co-director of Obesity Solutions at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, “If you’ve been sitting for an hour, you’ve been sitting too long.” Dr. Joseph Mercola thinks even an hour is too long. He recommends that you take a movement break every 15 minutes and suggests setting a timer at work or using a phone app to remind you to get up and walk or stretch.
If you think about it, it makes total sense. As we evolved away from chasing our food (and being chased by it!) and settled down, we still lived in a state of constant movement. Cooking, weaving, gathering, building, everything we did in our day was movement. Even if we sat to mend something we would then get up to stir the pot or get more material. Even in more recent years as we built businesses that were more stationary, the business owner would check out his fleet or land or livestock, on foot or on horseback. Ladies would take long walks in the garden, as would couples after dinner, and for a special occasion, the entertainment after dinner would involve dance.
Taking frequent breaks throughout the day to get up and stretch your body will release tightness from your muscles and keep energy (and blood and oxygen) flowing smoothly throughout your body. A stretch, some simple calisthenics or yoga poses will go a long way. If you can, take a little time to go for a walk.
While a nice long walk during lunch or after work is a great health option that can also provide a forum for social interaction or emotional reconnection with a friend or loved one, little intermittent walking breaks throughout the day can improve your health… and your creativity.
A new study from Stanford University revealed that our ability to solve problems creatively, or our divergent thinking creativity, increases during and after walking. Researchers put 176 college students into groups and asked them to generate as many possible solutions in a set time by coming up for different possible uses for an object. The scores were evaluated on their originality, whether other participants also identified that same solution, and their appropriateness, or whether the ideas were actually realistic.
The participants took the test while sitting, being pushed in a wheelchair, or walking inside or outside for a period of 5-16 minutes. They found that participants scored 60% higher when they were walking than sitting, whether it was indoors or outdoors and that their creative thinking levels remained elevated for a period of time after their walk.
So the next time you are sitting at your desk working hard to solve a problem, rushing to finish a report, or struggling to find an answer, take a few minutes to get up and go for a walk. The answer just might come to you more quickly and your health will be improved as well.