Stroll through any store this time of year and you're bound to see the color red, valentine hearts, and love. Hearts are all around us in every shade of pink and red. This February, I'd like to encourage you to show a little love to your heart.
The American Heart Association recognizes heart disease awareness and prevention during the month of February through their national American Heart Month campaign. Specifically, the national Go Red for Women day encourages people of all ages to wear red the first Friday of February to bring attention to the leading killers of women – heart disease and stroke.
Sadly, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, causing 1 in 4 deaths each year. Even so, it can often be prevented through making healthy lifestyle choices and through the management of health conditions.
Like most people, there are days where I sit all day at my desk. While I strive to be physically active every day, the fact that I am sedentary for the majority of my day started to bother me. Whether you work at a desk or are retired, most American adults are sitting more than they realize. Consider the time you spend at your desk, in front of a computer or TV, or even riding in a car. Some studies have concluded that we sit on average 7.7 hours per day – with some people sitting up to 15 hours a day.
The problem of sitting too much is having a negative effect on our overall health. Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with health concerns like obesity, increased blood pressure, and high blood sugar. Studies have also shown increased incidences of heart disease and cancer in those who sit for extended periods of time. Individuals who sit for eight or more hours a day have been shown to be at a 14% higher risk for chronic diseases. The problem is prevalent enough that scientists have even given it a name – "sitting disease."
Any time we are sitting for an extended period of time – like at work or while driving or during our free time- can cause us harm. Even if you are physically active each day, if you engage in prolonged sitting, you are still at risk.
The bottom line is that sitting too much is bad for our heart.
The good news is that there is a simple solution to counteract the effects of too much sitting: move more. Small changes to your lifestyle can make a big difference. Try these ideas to move more during your day:
- Stand more. Look for opportunities throughout your day to stand. Stand, instead of sit, when taking a phone call. Take notice of how long you've been on the computer or watching the TV. Once you have an awareness of how long you've been sitting, aim to cut back. Paying attention to how long we're sitting and then working ways in to stand more are beneficial.
- Set an alarm. It's easy to get distracted with work or a good show to forget how long we've been sitting. Set an alarm to remind you to get up and move. Aim to stand up, move, and stretch every 30 to 60 minutes of sitting. Some experts recommend following the 20-8-2 rule meaning for every 20 minutes you sit at work or home, stand for 8 minutes and move for 2 minutes. Pick whichever strategy works for you.
- Add activity to your routine. Walk when you can including parking a little further away from your destination. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Take a family walk after dinner. Stroll to the mailbox instead of stopping by in your car. Get your family involved! There are many ways that you can sneak in extra activity.
- Take more steps. Whether you have a simple pedometer or a fancy gadget, monitoring how many steps you take each day can be a great motivator to moving more. While getting 10,000 steps in each day is ideal, aim for at least 5,000 steps each day.
- Don't forget to exercise. Even if you are incorporating more standing and moving in your daily routine, exercise is still important. While the recommendation of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-5 times a week still applies, incorporating light to moderate daily activity will reap benefits as well. Gardening, taking a walk, and even light housework can help you be more active.
Take a stand this month – your heart will thank you.
Click here for a printable infographic on sitting disease: Just Stand
American College of Cardiology; Study Bolsters Link between Heart Disease, Excessive Sitting; March 2015American Heart Association