Why Sitting May Be Worse Than Smoking, And How To Fix It (No Gym Required)
You’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t sit too much because it’s bad for your posture, but you’ve probably never guessed that sitting can pose serious health risks. As it turns out, too much sitting is linked to much more than just back problems. Sitting increases your risk for diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, and dementia, and higher chance of an early death.
Furthermore, exercise doesn’t appear to be the best solution. Even if you are fit, if you sit for long periods of the day, your risk of dying early is still increased. Instead, the solution to prolonged sitting is not necessarily exercise, but movement.
Well, isn’t exercise movement? Yes, it is, but most of us condense our exercise to a small portion of the day. Don’t get me wrong, exercise still has health benefits, but when you condense all your movement to one hour-long portion, you do little to counteract the effects of sitting.
Why is this? Well, because sitting itself isn’t the big problem, it’s stagnation. In fact, it’s being locked in one position for long periods of time that does the damage. The same thing occurs with retail jobs where you stand in the same position all day. Anyone who’s worked in that field can attest to the toll it takes on your body to have locked knees behind a counter for 8 hours.
How NASA Found, And Solved, The Stagnation Problem
Doctor Joan Verikos discovered the negative impact of stagnation while working as a scientist for NASA. In space, astronauts suffer loss of bone and muscle density rapidly, and Dr. Verikos discovered this has to do with our body’s relationship with gravity.
To learn how to combat these effects, Dr. Verikos performed a double blind research study. Study participants first spent 4 days in bed to replicate the stagnation of a no-gravity environment. Then the team set about finding the fastest ways to “recover” from that state.
Interestingly enough, the best method for combating the effects of stagnation was as simple as standing up, often, throughout the day. In fact, simply standing up from bed 35 times throughout the day was more effective than going for walks, doing cardio exercise, and other methods tested.
The key was that movement, specifically, changing posture, was performed often and over the course of the day. If you simply stood up and sat back down 35 times all at once, you’d notice little benefit.
Daily Movement as a Training Modality
Many people work in office settings, confined to a chair and using a computer for 8 hours or more daily. Often these people have only a few hours outside of work to be with their family or do hobbies, and working out is difficult to fit into the schedule.
Armed with the knowledge that movement is the solution to the negative consequences of this lifestyle, there is a new way of doing things to get fit. Thankfully, this way is much more compatible with office life than a gym membership.
Basically, instead of working out for an hour all at once, start incorporating light exercise into your workday, throughout the day. Dr. Verikos found that merely standing up and sitting back down again breaks the cycle of chronic stagnation, but breaking up the sitting with a few squats or other exercises lets you get even more benefits.
This isn’t just a method for people who want to be healthy, many top athletes train in this manner as well. Ben Greenfield, a famous biohacker, iron-man triathlete, and spartan race competitor makes sure to workout throughout the day. One of his rules, for example, is to do 30 squats every time he goes to the bathroom, and at speaking engagements he is known to sneak away to perform push-ups, burpees, or other movements.
You can also get massive strength gains by exercising light, often.
Pavel Tsatsouline (pronounced Paw-vell Sat-Soo-Lin) is a famous strength coach known for making the kettle bell popular in the U.S., and training special forces troops in Eastern Europe. His is heavily focused on pure strength gains.
Pavel’s method, called grease-the-groove training, involves picking an exercise in which you want to become stronger. You are not allowed to do more than half of your maximum reps of the exercise, and you are not allowed to do more than 5 reps. Then, you do sets as often as you can throughout the day without getting sore.
For example, if you want to get better at pull ups, and you can currently do a maximum of 6 pull-ups, grease-the-groove involves doing 3 pull ups as often as you can without getting sore.
Sound too good to be true? This training gave Pavel’s 75 year old father the ability to do over 20 pull-ups at once, and to become an American record holder for the Deadlift in his age group by lifting 407lbs at a body weight of 193lbs.
With that in mind, adopting this style of light, throughout the day training is great for athletes as well as those simply looking to get healthy.
What You Need
To maximize the benefits of daily movement, you need to maintain two key elements to your training: Variety, and consistency. Like exercise in general, greater variety helps break plateaus, prevent injury, promote healthy joint function and body movement.
You want to perform exercise that will challenge many different muscle groups, and you also want to vary the resistance of certain exercises. In a gym, this is done by using weights, to either increase or decrease the difficulty of an exercise.
However, since we’re incorporating these moves into your daily schedule, I’d recommend instead getting some resistance bands. Resistance bands are rubber tubes connected to a handle, or are simply thin sheets of rubber. You can perform most conventional exercises with resistance bands by hooking them under your foot or around a chair or table leg.
As you pull the band, resistance will increase, taxing the muscle. Resistance bands also offer something unique called varied resistance. When you lift a dumbbell, the resistance is equal to the weight of the dumbbell throughout the movement. However with resistance bands, the resistance increases as the bands stretch. In keeping with the principle of variety, this changing resistance causes the muscles to work harder to deal with the instability of an increasing resistance.
However, variety means you must come-up with new exercises to do often, and you need to be careful to perform new exercises the right way so as not to injure yourself.
Next, is consistency.
Many people find that the hardest thing about going to the gym is getting themselves to go every day. With daily movement, depending on your temperament, this may be either easier or harder than going to the gym.
On the one hand, the exercises you do throughout the day will feel easier than doing a whole workout. On the other hand, you’ll have to remember to do the exercises often, as the day progresses. Setting rules like “5 squats every time I go to the bathroom.” or simply setting a timer, is a great method.
Another awesome method to ensure consistency is accountability. Join, or create a community of people with similar goals or knowledge in this area. Agree to do your exercises at the same times throughout the day. Make it an office wide thing.
If you are still intimidated by the idea of taking on daily movement on your own, I may yet have a solution for you. For beginners, it can be difficult to try any new endeavor without a coach, and exercise is no different.
My father, Scott Eriksson, is a software developer and discus throw athlete. In his mid 50s, he has stayed healthy by moving throughout the day, and holds the national discus record for his age group. Being someone who has worked from a computer for most of his life, he wanted to share his vision for health with others who deal with similar work environments. So, he invented Nerdbody.
Nerdbody connects you to a community of professionals all striving to improve their health and energy.
You receive 4 small workouts per day, and a kit of several resistance bands to be used in your exercises. You should still incorporate movement throughout your day such as a few squats every hour, but Nerdbody will provide more complex exercises along with training videos.
Many of the videos are performed by regular people within the community, and it’s a great way to stay motivated on your health and fitness journey.
If you’re interested in learning more about Nerdbody, you can read more here.