I’m Fit, But Am I Healthy?

Going to the gym occasionally isn’t enough to stay healthy, according to sports medicine researchers. Evidence suggests that we spend over 40 hours a week sitting at work or lounging on the sofa, and the odd walk on the treadmill isn’t enough to combat how unhealthy this is.

However, there’s good news.

It’s possible – and fairly easy – to counter the deadly effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Below, we outline why sedentary living and sitting all day at work is bad for you, and the steps you can take right now to improve your health.

The office job problem

When you work in an office, you may spend over 8 hours a day sitting at a desk. If you sit through your lunch break and during your commute, you could spend up to 9 or 10 hours a day sitting because of work.

A significant sedentary lifestyle study showed that people who sit for at least 8 hours a day should exercise for an hour or more daily to counter this. The problem is, when you’re exhausted after a long day at the office, or your day starts really early, exercise is all too easy to skip.

And, even if you do keep fit, are you doing enough to combat the health effects associated with a sedentary lifestyle? Chances are, you might not be.

But why is sitting all day such a big deal, and is it even possible to be “fit but unhealthy”?

Sitting all day

Many New Zealander’s have jobs that mean sitting for at least some of the day. Even if you don’t have a “desk job”, it’s likely that you spend a few hours every day idle. The reality is, most of us spend too much time staring at a computer screen and not enough time stretching our legs.

Researchers are calling this the “sitting epidemic“, and it’s affecting all of us. So, why is sitting all day so bad for us, anyway?

How you can be fit but unhealthy

Research shows that sitting still for 30 minutes, or sitting more than 8 hours per day, puts us at greater risk of developing dangerous health problems. These conditions include:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Muscular problems from poor posture or not changing our posture enough
  • Low energy expenditure
  • Low rates of muscular activity
  • Lower quality sleep
  • Early death
  • Mental health problems

How does this translate? Put simply, for example:

  • Sitting for 8 hours per day with little exercise increases your mortality risk by almost 10%
  • Sitting for 4 hours per day and moving more increases your mortality risk by only 6.8%

What’s important about these numbers is that you can be “fit”, and exercise a few times per week, but still be in a high-risk category because of a sedentary lifestyle.

What’s also clear is that sitting less directly correlates to improved health and a longer life expectancy. While a sedentary lifestyle isn’t the only factor responsible for dangerous diseases, it’s a significant one, and it’s one we can all do something about.

So, how can we make ourselves not just fit, but healthy, too?

Healthy lifestyle changes

Since everyone who sits for 8 hours a day or more should exercise for at least an hour daily, what exercise counts? A lot, thankfully.

  • You don’t need to exercise for an hour at once – you can spread it over the day
  • Exercise includes everything from hitting the weights to walking on your lunch break – you don’t need to step foot inside a gym if you walk around the office enough!
  • Everyone should get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, and it doesn’t have to be pounding on a treadmill

Here are some great ways you can make your day healthier.

  • Take the longest route when you walk anywhere in the office – for example, take the long way to the bathroom or the kitchen
  • Walk some of your commute
  • Go out for lunch and take the stairs
  • Get up and stretch your legs
  • Stand or walk to talk on the phone
  • Set alarms to remind you to walk regularly
  • Stand to work, where possible

With just a few simple changes to your daily routine, you can combat the negative health effects of sitting all day and a sedentary lifestyle.