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Sitting Too Much?

How sedentary behavior may affect health

Have you been hearing the latest advice about physical activity? It encourages most everyone, including people with diabetes, to reduce sedentary behavior.

What is sedentary behavior?

Sedentary behavior, sometimes called “the sitting disease,” refers to all behaviors associated with sitting and reclining for extended periods of time during which a person uses minimal energy and burns few calories. They include driving, watching television, playing non-active video games, working on the computer and surfing the web. With the increased use of computers and mobile devices at home and in workplaces, many aspects of daily life may seem to have been reengineered to encourage us to move less and sit more.

How sedentary are Americans?

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic found that the average American spent 58% of their waking hours engaged in sedentary activities. One in four sat nearly three-quarters of their waking hours, performed light activities for another one-third and spent little to no time exercising.

The potential cost of being sedentary

A 2012 study by American and Danish researchers concluded that “Physical inactivity is a cause of most chronic diseases” and that a “lack of physical activity affects almost every cell, organ, and system in the body.”

“Long periods of sedentary activity is identified as a risk factor for developing prediabetes, type 2 diabetes and heart and blood vessel diseases because they can lead to elevated triglycerides, low levels of the good cholesterol (HDL), increased insulin resistance, rising glucose levels, and increased inches around the waist,” says Len Kravitz, PhD, Associate Professor of Exercise Science at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

A target amount

Reducing the amount of time spent sitting may be a first step in becoming less sedentary. The American Diabetes Association encourages everyone, including people living with diabetes, to reduce sedentary time by sitting no longer than 90 minutes at a time to break up extended sedentary periods.

In addition, the Association also recommends that adults living with diabetes should engage in aerobic exercise for 2½ hours spread over at least three days a week, and resistance training that targets all muscle groups at least two days a week.

(Read more about aerobic activity and resistance training. Be sure to talk to your diabetes care team if you have questions about your physical activity, or before changing or beginning a new fitness routine.)

Reducing sedentary behavior

“Start by setting realistic, easy to achieve, small steps to sit less at work, school or during leisure time,” says Melanie Batchelor, MHS, RD, CDE®, a diabetes educator at Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva, North Carolina.

Tips for work or school:

  • Take longer routes to the water fountain, restroom and cafeteria.
  • “Use the phone ringing or someone entering your workspace as a trigger to stand up and move. Continue to stand during each interaction,” Kravitz suggests.
  • Rather than sending emails to co-workers who sit nearby, deliver messages in person.
  • “Be a trend setter. Conduct walking meetings with a co-worker, fellow student or professor,” Batchelor suggests.
  • Seek out an interested partner to join you on regular walks before or after lunch.
  • Park further away from school or work or, if you use public transportation, get off one stop before your destination and walk the rest of the way.

Tips for leisure time:

  • “Set an alarm on your smartphone to remind you to get up and walk around every 30 minutes if you are reading or on the computer,” Batchelor suggests.
  • Stand up and walk in place, around your home or up and down a flight of stairs during TV commercials and/or phone calls.
  • Break up the amount of time you’re in bed before you go to sleep. Get up to brush your teeth, set out clothes for the next day and do other before-bedtime routines.
  • “Don’t sit at your children’s athletic events; walk around the field or bleachers. Get others to join you,” Kravitz advises.
  • Do more gardening, lawn mowing, leaf raking, vacuuming, sweeping and cleaning.
  • Stand up to open and read your snail mail.

(Get more tips for staying fit with diabetes and sneaking exercise into daily life.)

Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE*, is the author of several best-selling books published by the American Diabetes Association, including Eat Out Eat Well – The Guide to Eating Healthy in Any Restaurant and Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy. She’s a frequent contributor to Diabetic Living magazine. Warshaw is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

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