The quality of life technology provides is astounding – computing advances lead to services that deliver products to your doorstep and allow work to be done entirely in front of a computer. However, these technological advances also push people towards a more sedentary lifestyle; people have fewer reasons to move and there may be huge health implications in the future.
Dr. Imran Haque, an internist and primary care physician based in North Carolina, and has been practicing medicine for over a decade. He is also opening a new practice for elders which looks to provide long term care for residents in skilled nursing homes, assisted livings, and group homes. During his time practicing medicine, Dr. Imran Haque has seen an increasing trend of less movement in some of his patients, and is concerned about future trends. Most importantly, he believes that people need to make efforts to be more active in the future, especially when tasks and chores are being engineered to be more convenient.
The perils of a sedentary lifestyle
A study by the University of South Carolina found that men who sit for more than 23 hours a week had a 64% greater chance of dying of heart disease. Dr. Imran Haque sees this trend as very concerning due to how easy it is becoming to never leave your chair – whether its watching television, browsing the internet, or even working. The danger of prolonged sitting is due to the fact that so many muscle groups are being unused, especially major back and leg muscles which can lead to a weaker body as time progresses. The lack of activity kills metabolism and has a direct effect on levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, and even waist size.
A separate study focused measuring mobility in men and women aged 50 to 71 years old, conducted by George Washington University, found that people who were sedentary for more than five hours a day had a 65% higher risk of having mobility issues than those who were sat around two hours a day. Even light physical activity such as pacing around, walking to around the mall, or walking to the car made a profound impact. More importantly, the study also found that the mental capacity of some people can be retained or improved by physical activity – taking steps to keep the body health also helps preserve the mind as well. A non-active lifestyle has profound implications for health and mobility at old age.
Dr. Imran Haque reiterates that maintaining a healthy diet and strong exercise will pay dividends in the future. In particular, the mobility of a person’s body in old age is directly linked to how active a person’s was earlier in life. People who did not exercise regularly tend to have a tripled rate of mobility issues in old age as well as a drastically increased risk of suffering from a whole slew of health related complications such as heart disease or diabetes. The first step to addressing this problem is to identify how much sitting actually occurs in a day.
How much sitting is too much?
Count the hours you sit each day. If your round trip commute is one hour and you work a full-time job, that’s at least nine hours a day. If you go home, eat dinner, and spend a few more hours watching television; the hours can add up to as much as 13 or 14 hours of sitting. Being immobile for so long is incredibly easy to do and it can also be difficult to break out of the cycle. Many functions and chores that used to require movement are being engineered out of people’s lives, such as buying groceries, shipping mail, or walking to the phone to talk. Even in the office, certain tasks have become digital, eliminating the need to physically walk to somebody’s desk to deliver a message, make a copy, or gossip.
Recommendations for Activity
To remedy too much sitting, Dr. Imran Haque has a number of tips. At minimum, he recommends people get up and move around at least every thirty minutes when staring at a screen, making sure to pace around for a few minutes, grab a glass of water, or stretch in place. His best case scenario is to perform some sort of activity that causes breathlessness, such as a recreational sport or light jog. Even a brisk walk around the block once a day will suffice. Consider counting your steps – many smartphones can now keep track of the total number of steps you take each day. Dr. Imran Haque recommends taking a minimum of 5,000 steps a day, ideally more. What’s important is that the minimum of 5,000 steps a day will mean that a person’s health will not suffer, but improving health will require more steps.
It’s not too late to make a lifestyle change
It is not too late to make a lifestyle change – even small steps such as walking around the neighborhood can pay huge dividends for health in the future. Taking the plunge into 5,000 steps a day will prevent a person’s health from suffering too much later in life, but Dr. Imran Haque recommends a person try to squeeze in as many steps as possible. Even later in life, more movement can have significant benefits for both short and long term health – people have started moving more in the late 60s, which have strengthened their muscles and improved their mind rather quickly. Make sure not to fall into the trap of immobility – especially in a time where convenience is replacing activity.