Sit less, move more

Published 9.8.2106
As I've ranted previously, it irks the snot out of me when doctors tell people that exercise is not important in weight loss. Actually, it's not really exercise that's important, it's not sitting all day that is important. Setting aside time each day to exercise is a first world phenomenon— and perhaps mostly an American one. However, moving through the day— more precisely not sitting (being sedentary) all day is common

Working out doesn’t negate sitting all day, which is why I do not (sit all day that is).

Last month in The Lancet, researchers tested whether any amount of exercise could ameliorate the risk of premature death that comes with sitting for eight hours a day. Their epidemiological analysis found that 60 to 75 minutes of concerted daily exercise might to the trick. Which is a lot. And the people weren’t necessarily healthy, just alive.

The reason I'm highlighting this particle result though is that fact that it suggests that NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) can make a difference. It's not about exercising for 30 minutes a day, it's about not sitting for 10+ hours a day.

This seductive trade-off psychology may also explain why the American Heart Association’s review concluded that: “Interventions focusing solely on reducing sedentary behavior appear to be more effective at reducing sedentary behavior than those that include strategies for both increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviors.” According to that, maybe we are devoting too much to advocating exercise and not enough to simply demonizing sedentariness. Maybe we should—at least in some cases—drop advocating “exercise” altogether?

Forget about "killing it" in the gym and simply sit less, and move more. If you don't have a standing desk (or can't fashion one from a box or shelving) then stand up while on the phone, or take the stairs rather than the elevator every day.

Practice makes efficient

So one of the arguments proffered against exercise is that the body adapts to repeated routines and expends less energy to do it. Basically, the more you do something, the better you get at doing it and the less effort the body needs to exert. It’s any different than learning to swim, and then improving with practice. It's not a reason not to exercise!

The claim is that there’s a plateau or “sweet spot” of calories expended and that the body moves less doing other things to keep the level constant. Because I’m an evangelist for NEAT I don’t accept this. I think that the body can be trained to adopt a higher level of daily movement if efforts are made to increase non-exercise movement. Standing instead of sitting while reading or typing. Pedaling while reading, etc.

I don’t doubt that the unconscious reaction is to move less, but I think that you can consciously alter how you respond. Standing more is something that can be adopted by almost everyone. At least they don’t say that exercise isn’t worth it. Although I wish they’d just say movement is important for good health— or more to the point sitting as the default position during the day is the issue.

Here’s the actual study discussed in the article above, from February this year. They claim total energy expenditure was roughly constant each day, no matter how much exercise was done. The data have HUGE error bars, which I note because looking at the graphs, I don’t know how they drew any conclusions from them.

Too much data can be a bad thing

Do you own a Fitbit or similar gadget to monitor your activity and vital signs? If so, you have plenty of company. The iPhone and iWatch come with a pre-loaded app that counts the number of steps a user takes and the number stairs climbed unless the user goes into the settings and turn it off. I turned off the app, not because I don't want to know the number of steps that I take but because it couldn't count the number of steps I was taking at my treadmill desk. And thus the number was garbage.

However, I am also leery of getting too hung up with counting and monitoring again. In 2012, I tracked the number of miles I walked while working at my treadmill desk, and continued through 2013. However, I deliberately stopped recording my mileage in 2014 because I decided I was focusing more on trying to get to a certain number of miles rather than focusing on being productive. I still walked while working, but stopped worrying if the day's events had kept me from walking a certain amount. Nowadays I still walk in the mornings while I read to get my day started, but then switch to my standing desk or bike desk for the rest of the day,

However, there are folks who monitor and record reams of data bout themselves daily with the goal that this data will be useful to their doctors in the event that they have a health issue. Doctors though, don't seem as certain.

In this age of computers, it would seem to be an obvious evolution that people would monitor their body functions. After all, we have the technology, so why not? There is some evidence that wearing an activity tracker can increase the number of steps someone takes.


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