Please Be Upstanding!

Please Be Upstanding

Little else compares with the pleasure of sinking into a deeply-upholstered, reclining chair – the sort where, at the click of a switch or the effortless pull of a handle, your feet are automatically hoisted into a blissful horizontal position. It’s enough (if you don’t already have one) to send you to the nearest furniture shop to choose one of these dreamy pieces of furniture. But before you do, you may want to consider just how much time you’ll be spending in it. Thanks to research, we now know there’s a sinister side to the simple, natural art of sitting. But come to think of it, anyone who has had the difficult experience of watching an immobile loved-one deteriorate, probably already had a hunch.

The fact is, we humans are an upright beast, and our heart, with its welcome habit of pumping blood around our body, performs best when we are in an upright position. So do many of our other organs and bodily functions. Our bowels, for example, are more regular when we’re not bedridden or sitting all day at an office desk, or in front of the TV. Digestion is aided by being physically active, which helps with weight control (the less efficiently you digest the fats and carbs in your diet, the more likely they are to set up home on your hips, or wherever you tend to store fat). Blood pressure is better controlled when you’re not sitting all day, and balance gets a boost because exercise strengthens the big muscles that help hold us upright.

So, given standing up and moving about regularly gives us a better shot at being healthy, just what are researchers offering in the way of details. Although the nitty-gritty is still being refined, here’s what the science is telling us so far: The big take-home is if you want to bite back at the dangers of sitting, you would be well advised to get up from the chair and take a five minute walk every half hour.

This plan of attack is going to help reduce blood sugars significantly, compared with staying in the armchair all day. The five minute walk every half hour (yup, we deliberately repeated that phrase) is also helpful in reducing blood pressure compared to sitting all day. In fact, even a one minute walk every half hour can reduce blood pressure. If you’re thinking of following this advice, you might want to start sooner rather than later as the jury is still out on whether the regular walking breaks are able to reverse the damage already done by sitting.

As always, it’s how we build helpful advice into our daily lives that makes the difference to the success or failure at implementing a plan. If you take the mindset, by regularly break up sitting as research suggests, you’re destined to be up and down like a yo-yo, you may never get started on your new healthy habit. On the other hand, why not have fun with the concept by grabbing a notebook and pen, and noting down, over the course of, say, two or three days, how often you already move from a sitting position, and walk, and for how long the walk is maintained. If you’re already getting up frequently to visit the bathroom, make a hot drink, collect the mail, or put the cat out, it may take just a small tweak to reach the recommended goal.

There’s so much to be gained from getting up from the chair every half hour for a 5 minute walk. And when it could help with balance, digestion, bowel regularity, weight management, blood pressure (and more), why wouldn’t you challenge yourself to give it a go!