Being a Desk Potato is Worse than You Thought

May 02, 2011

Being a Desk Potato is Worse than You Thought – So Do the Hokey Pokey

 Reference: Med Sci Sports Exer,  Competency:  Exercise and Movement 

 Sitting, sedentary, and resting is what we do.   All-day long.  Knowledge workers, using our minds, testing our intellect, that’s what we are.  Warriors of the keyboards!  Dying on the job.  Heart disease, diabetes, expanding waistlines…… That’s just what most of us do all day long.  We have a keyboard, a cubby, a computer screen and there we sit.  Now, for those of us with virtue who get up and get sweaty every day with our 40 minutes of brisk walking, well, that is good but not enough.  

Episodic exercise isn’t all you need every day.  And don’t get me wrong.  The Honolulu Retired Men’s Study showed that walking two miles every day cuts mortality in half.  So, just walking for 40 minutes every day has huge benefits.  Our Federal guideline for exercise that calls for 30 minutes a day of exercise is right on the money.  No question. But it’s a bit more complex than all that.  

It’s not the episodic exercise that’s the only key.  It’s prolonged sitting by itself that’s a problem.   That’s what Dr. Blair’s paper found, reported last week on NPR, and published in the Journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.  Taking a precise measurement of movement every day, and comparing groups of men Blair found that sitting at a desk, sedentary for 23 hours a week had 67% greater risk of death from heart disease than folks who reported only 11 hours a week of sitting.  The explanation was thought to be that our bodies simply go into idle mode when large muscles relax to sit for long periods of time.  

It’s not just being sedentary that’s a problem.  You can be very active part of the time but sedentary for long periods, and still have risk.  That sedentary period by itself is an additional huge risk for vascular disease.  It adds to the exercise story and explains why we haven’t seen the benefit from exercise that we thought we should have seen.  Those of us who are exercising once a day aren’t doing all we need to. To stay healthy, you have to do more than exercise one isolated time each day.  You have to get all your large muscles thinking about burning fuel intermittently, all day long.   

In fact, the NPR article cites an Australian study in which folks who got up and moved for just a few minutes at a time had better markers of metabolic function.  It only takes a minute or two.  Episodic large muscle movement is the key. 

 WWW. What will work for me?  You don’t go to the Y every day?  You can help yourself out with something much more simple.  Stand up every hour for one minute, do a bit of Hokey Pokey, march in place, a couple of deep knee bends, anything to get your big muscles moving.  That is all it takes.   Not only does it wake up your brain, but it wakes up your metabolism.  Your waist size will be smaller, your cholesterol better, your blood sugar will be better and your risk of heart disease will drop by more than half.  This is worth it.  I live in a tri-level.  Stairs everywhere I go.  Time to stop complaining about it.  Can you take an extra set of stairs each day.   Once is good, twice is better, three times is virtue, four… oh my, angelic.  And richly reward the person next to you when you see them doing it.  Do it together.  Group Hokey Pokey is kind of fun.  Sort of like summer camp at work.

Column Written by Dr John Whitcomb, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI