In the past year I have sprained my ankle while teaching Zumba, strained my back playing softball and got a nasty 5 inch abrasion on my shin at Crossfit. One of my witty family members commented to me, “That’s what you get for exercising.” My response “What does a sedentary lifestyle get you?”
A popular topic in research today is the health impacts of sedentary behaviors, specifically excessive sitting time. In fact, I’ve heard “sedentary behaviors are the new smoking” referenced in several presentations and conferences. Sedentary behaviors have taken over our country. Decreased physical activity patterns have been noted with the rise of technology (video games/tablets), changing modes of transportation and increased urbanization. We generally associate sedentary behaviors with watching television, playing video games, surfing the web, reading and knitting. However, most forget that our job positions are often sedentary activities. In fact, 95% of my day is spent sitting and talking to patients or charting on the computer.
We know that limiting sedentary behaviors is recommended for children. In fact, television or screen time should be limited to no more than 2 hours/day for children. But are there any sedentary behavior limitations recommended for adults? At present, no definitive recommendations can be made on how long adults can sit for or how often they should break up their sitting time. In one Australian study, high levels of television viewing time were associated with metabolic syndrome and its components (abdominal obesity, abnormal glucose and lipid metabolism).3 A 2003 article in the JAMA found that independent of exercise levels, sedentary behaviors, especially TV watching, were associated with significantly elevated risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, whereas even light to moderate activity was associated with substantially lower risk.1
Sometimes limited physical activity is out of one’s control, such as a job position. Wearing a pedometer can help you become more aware of how sedentary or active you are during the day. The Shape Up America program recommends individuals aim for 10,000 steps per day (which would be close to walking about 5 miles/day). Ten thousand steps may be too great of a feat for some individuals; however, a pedometer can help track what your average amounts of steps are per day. From there, you can set personalized goals focusing on your own physical activity patterns. For example, if you average 2,000 steps per day, create a goal of increasing that to 3,000 steps per day.
In a study published in 2008, Diabetes Care, researchers investigated the importance of avoiding prolonged, uninterrupted periods of sitting time.2 This evidence suggests that recommendations need to be made to break up sitting time in addition to physical activity recommendations.
What is the best type of physical activity?
The current recommendation for physical activity for health is a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity accumulated each week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week. While I’d love to tell everyone to start incorporating high-intensity interval training and lifting heavy weights into their exercise routines, bottom line is, not everyone likes the same thing. I am not a fan of running and there is no way that I would wake up before work every day to go for a brisk morning jog. However, I love going to Crossfit and rarely choose sleeping in over going to an early morning class. I never saw myself as an early morning exerciser, but I found something that I love, something that motivates me and that is the reason my alarm clock is set for 5:15 a.m. every morning.
To answer the question, the best type of exercise is the kind that gets you moving! Sure, many can argue one form of exercise is better over the other, but what matters most is the fact that you are exercising. I encourage people to find something they love and hopefully its multiple things so that you can vary up your routine. If you can, try to participate in exercise or active movement every day. Remember to take breaks often if you have a sedentary work position, even if you already work out before or after work.
1. Frank B. Hu, et al. 2003.Television Watching and Other Sedentary Behaviors in Relation to Risk of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in Women. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 289(14):1785-1791.
2. Healy, G.N, et al. (2008). Breaks in sedentary time: Beneficial associations with metabolic risk. Diabetes Care, 31(4): 661-666.
3. Owen, N. (2012). Sedentary behavior: Understanding and influencing adults’ prolonged sitting time. Prev Med, 55(6): 535-539.