Shifting from Sedentary to Active

May 1, 2015 - Many of us spend a great deal of time in our chairs—at work or home—living a sedentary life.  With our community’s emphasis on living longer, happier and healthier lives we can be more creative as we add exercise and physical activities to our daily work and home patterns.  These newfound activities are good for both fitness and productivity.

I suspect folks who are doing physical labor at work envy those who are sedentary most of the day at home or work but as we all know, the grass is not always greener.  A typical adult sits eight hours at work in a desk chair, plus sits during the commute both ways, and finishes the day in front of the TV.  This is a recipe for ruin–according to a 2012 Forbes article.  Sitting all day increases our risk for obesity and puts us at risk for back pain, poor posture, leg cramps, tense muscles and sheer boredom. 

Simply keeping your body busy, using your muscles and stressing your bones keeps your heart pumping and your lungs exchanging air, which is good for you.  Most everyone feels time-pressured with incoming messages, communications, and other distractions in this digital age, but in order to be effective and efficient, we need to stay in good physical condition. 

According to a 2009 survey by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health nearly half of all Americans admit that they don’t engage in the suggested 30 minutes, five days a week of vigorous activity.  Our community aspires to be an exception as we embrace new patterns of behavior making the easier choice the healthier choice. 

Exercises we can do right at our desks or while sitting at home watching TV or on the internet can move us in the right direction.  Just starting to change habits can and should lead to better health.  Interestingly, as more of us participate, the easier it will be to continue with increased physical activity, as we learn and encourage each other.

We are in front of a computer more than ever these days, so having a good sitting posture is very important.  Be sure that your feet are at a 90 degree angle on the ground or a foot rest, with knees and hips flexed 90% and your computer screen is at the right height to avoid having to stoop over.  Hunching forward can cause back spasms and exacerbate other posture problems—plus being stooped shoulder is very unattractive.  

Stretching frequently also helps minimize fatigue, adds to productivity, and is good for your muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments.  Stretching can also prevent carpal tunnel syndrome which is associated with overuse of the computer key board and keeping your wrists flexed.  Physical therapists know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure so keeping your joints is so much easier than trying to recover from long standing misuse or even no use at all.

In office situations, getting up and talking face-to-face may take an extra moment but the communication will be better, quite likely the creativity will improve, and most importantly, physically you can prevent many of the disuse problems.   Take the stairs, pack a healthy lunch from home, order smart at restaurants and buy fruits and vegetables for home consumption, walk whenever you can as part of your daily activities, and be smart about with whom you socialize, as we all tend to migrate to folks like us.   

We were meant to be “hunter-gatherers”—or at least farmers—able to sustain ourselves.  These more primitive activities had the advantage of keeping us fit.  We now are so advanced and civilized that we have physically placed ourselves in position of physically falling apart.  Our own societal success has set us up for failure.  This paradox can—and should—be avoided as we become more aware of our environment and adapt to better habits and activities.        

Change for the better is available and ubiquitous; we just have to be mentally and emotionally motivated and capable of embracing the benefits.  I’m confident that southwest Florida has already started on a journey to become the healthiest community in America.  Together, let’s accelerate the change by shifting from a sedentary to a more active lifestyle.  We will all live a longer, happier, and healthier life.

Past Health Advice Articles

Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.