Take a Stand Against Sitting

Prof making hand motions

Friends, let me introduce you to Dr. Tarry Ahuja, the accidental star of my Health Promotional campaign “Take a Stand Against Sitting”. Dr. Ahuja is the instructor Health Psychology 2301, a course I’m taking at Carleton University.

By “accidental” I mean I asked if he’d mind if I used a few screenshots of him in my class assignment and he graciously agreed. I didn’t originally intend to turn those screenshots into a 2 minute-long video; I also didn’t intend to get so drawn into the assignment, the creation an ad campaign to promote a positive health behaviour.

“It shouldn’t take you more than an hour,” Dr. Ahuja said about the assignment, “I don’t want you to go nuts. And this happens every term. People go crazy.”

It took me more than an hour. I went a little crazy.

My chosen topic? The health hazards of sitting and what we can do about it.

Long story short: I read study after study about the impact of sitting for long periods of time and what I’ve learned scares me. It scares me so much that I can no longer take it, um, sitting down

Here’s a few fun facts:

1) sitting is associated with the major chronic diseases of our time: diabetes, heart disease and  cancer, not to mention osteoporosis, chronic lower back pain, circulatory problems in the legs, muscle degeneration…. need I go on?

2) regular exercise is not an antidote to sitting. Even people who exercise regularly are susceptible to these issues. One hour of moderate or even vigorous exercise is not going to reverse the effects of 23 hours of being sedentary.

3) some experts are recommending guidelines to limit sitting time.

We weren’t meant to sit. We were meant to move. Every aspect of our health depends on it from energy management to heart health to immunity to mood.

It takes less than an hour for our metabolisms to slow, meaning blood is moving more sluggishly. Our idling muscles become less responsive to insulin and, as a result, the pancreas starts pumping out more. Our blood lipid levels go up. Our ability to burn fat decreases and our tendency to store fat rises. And with all of that that, we set ourselves up for chronic disease.

Not only can sitting be deadly in the long run, it can make day-to-day life painful and impede our mobility. Muscles that aren’t moving get tight, weak and stiff. Our spines get become less supple. Our posture suffers from top to bottom. Abdominal muscles and hip flexors. Buttocks and hips. Hamstrings and quads. They all suffer. Voila, lower back pain. The same applies to the muscles in our shoulders upper back, chest and neck. Got a head ache? Tight shoulders? A crick in the neck?

Maybe that urge to fidget is a sign that we ought to listen to more carefully.

But it is hard to listen carefully or focus when you are sedentary. Sitting too long can leave you feeling foggy and lethargic – not ideal for listening to a lecture or studying or poring over a textbook.

The good news? It only takes a few minutes to interrupt the sedentary pattern. Literally 1-3 minutes according to a researcher at U of T. A short walk. A few stretches. Any movement at all that gets the blood moving and wakes up the muscles. There are plenty of great suggestions online like this Washington Post article or this one on “micro-breaking

So be kind to your body and your brain. Don’t calcify in your chair. Set a timer to remind yourself to get up every half hour and get moving. You’ll be glad you did.

Take a Stand Against Sitting:


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