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MayaMohan2 Posted by:
Maya Mohan, Department of Public Health

  Maya is the Physical Activity Coordinator for DPH.

Growing up, my parents used to really get on my case to “quit fidgeting and just sit still!” Apparently, that might not have been the best advice. I recently read an article in the NY Time’s Well blog (The Hazards of the Couch) that outlines a study that followed approximately 4,500 middle aged men for a little over four years to observe the impact that simply sitting around has on our health.

If you take a minute to really think about how much time we spend being sedentary, it adds up pretty quickly. A significant number of adults drive a desk for a living and the road before us consists of a computer screen and keyboard (which probably aren’t set ergonomically correct for us, but that’s a topic for another post!). Once we’re home from work we most likely park ourselves in front of the TV or our home computer to check our email, surf the web, and catch up on Mass in Motion blog posts (sorry, I couldn’t help myself!). And, that’s just during the work week.

This study focused on time spent in front of a TV or computer screen for leisure or entertainment purposes and found that the men who spent at least two hours a day sitting in front of a screen had twice the risk of having a heart attack or other cardiac event, and those who spent at least four hours a day in front of a screen had twice the risk of dying of any cause. Interestingly, the amount of time spent exercising didn’t seem to make a difference. The article goes on to share previous studies that look at screen time’s effects on health, and explores a little bit about why sitting around is bad for us (for example, it may cause a physiological response that changes the way our body metabolizes lipids). Separate from the findings of this study, we know that being sedentary has financial costs associated with it as well – in fact, I wrote a post about it not too long ago (Being a Couch Potato Costs us Big Bucks).

There are guidelines and recommendations, endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, established for youth screen time (no more than 1-2 hours a day of quality programming for youth over the age of 2) – but for adults, it’s a little bit more vague.

Whatever the potential complex physiological mechanisms that make sitting hazardous to our health, the takeaway for me is pretty simple: Fidget. Don’t sit still for hours at a time. When you’re at work, set a reminder to get up from your computer every hour or so and take a walk around the office. And, of course, keep working out (because there is a mountain of evidence to show that being active for at least 2 and a half hours a week provides significant health benefits). So, maybe it does pay to fidget?

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