Usually, people delivering cautionary news begin with, "Are you sitting down?"
For the topic of this column, I’ll turn it around: "How often do you stand up? Or walk? Or do something besides sit?"
My question is prompted by a newspaper headline from The Independent in the United Kingdom that read: "Each hour of sitting increases chance of heart disease by 14 percent."
The article focused on a report of a study conducted by Dr. Jacquelyn Kulinski of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. The review looked at results from a study that, among other things, observed the effects of sitting and exercise on 2,031 participants who did not initially have heart disease.
Each hour of sitting raises the chances of getting heart disease, the study said, and even exercise later in the day can’t reverse its effects.
Of course, each of us has to work with our medical teams to assess and, if appropriate, treat any medical conditions we might have, including heart disease. But after reading about this study, I came up with a short list of activities I could do standing instead of sitting.
I can stand and talk on the phone or also stand and text. This idea sure gives life to the phrase "mobile phone." Conversations while standing and, even, while walking, can easily prevent our risk of heart disease. I can watch television while standing or moving, perhaps do some exercise while watching a favorite show. Do we really have to become one with our comfy chair for multiple hours at a stretch? Recently, I did a full set of motion exercises while standing and watching a program, and I felt much better for it.
Gardening, needlework, carpentry or other hobbies can be a wonderful way to pass the time, but so often, we do them while sitting. By placing our table or other work surface at a higher level, we could stand and perhaps gain a whole different perspective.
When we visit with loved ones, we tend to follow the reunion routine: Gather, sit, talk, eat and sit some more! Is there a healthful alternative? Encourage walks after a meal or plan an activity that takes some moving around.
At a writers’ conference one year, a very successful author pointed to her waistline and said, "This was book one," then pointed to her chin(s) and said "this was book two." By "book four," everyone had gotten the picture.
We can battle the bulge and put ourselves out of risk for heart disease by putting some work items out of reach (or make it so we have to get up and get them). When working, we should plan to take regular breaks (by standing and moving) and even streamline the work process so that we do not spend as many hours glued to our computer screens.
Above all, I have found that being more mindful of not sitting too long is extremely helpful, as is adding a bit of the parent to my inner dialogue: "You’ve sat long enough, Maureen. Now, move." And off I go.
Pratt is a columnist for Catholic News Service.