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Sedentary lifestyle harms long-term health

Wina Sturgeon Tribune News Service

I have a friend I’ll call ‘Anna’ who has begun complaining about pain in her hips and knees. She even went to her doctor, who found nothing that would explain these symptoms. In a roundabout way, he blamed the aches and pains on her age.

But age alone does not equal discomfort. It also requires – and pardon me for saying it – the ‘s’ word. Yes, the dreaded ‘s’ word – sedentary. Sitting all day, watching TV, reading or surfing the Internet, doing nothing but taking a short few steps to the kitchen or bathroom every few hours.

If that’s your lifestyle, the result will be pain. There are a lot of reasons for those results, but age is pretty far down the list.

Think about your life when you were younger. Even if you were not an active person, you probably moved around a lot more than you do today. Movement makes the muscles and connective tissues contract, so those tissues stay more pliable. You may not be aware of breathing a little harder when you move around, but any kind of activity will create a need for more oxygen to the tissues. Your heart will beat almost unnoticeably faster to get the blood flowing to supply oxygen to those now needy tissues.

When you were more active, your body used more energy, and it burned calories to get that energy. If you’re no longer moving around as much, you’re certainly not burning up those calories, so now they get stored as fat.

You don’t get fat because you hit the mid-century mark. The girth gain is because of those calories consumed while spending hours sitting or lying down and watching TV instead of doing other activities that would use up calories rather than store them.

Even if you spend an hour exercising nearly every single day, that’s not enough to overcome six or seven or more hours of sitting still and being sedentary. However, if you spread some activity throughout your day, rather than spending most of it in one unmoving position, you’ll be surprised at how much weight drops off and how those familiar aches and pains go away.

There are scientific reasons to explain all of this, but here are just a few facts: When your body is still – sedentary – and totally relaxed as you sit or lay down, your muscle fibers immediately begin losing strength. Within 24 hours of having no activity, your risk of getting diabetes increases, along with a trend towards obesity, because insulin effectiveness drops by 24 percent, according to Dr. Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked. People with sitting jobs have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease as people with standing jobs.

There are a lot of scientific solutions to prevent the damage of being sedentary, but the entire solution can be summed up in four words: Move around more often.

Here’s a foolproof way to make sure you do that:

• Use an alarm. It can be a clock or a timer or any device which will signal you once every hour. When you get that signal, get up and move for at least five minutes. Pace around your living room while continuing to watch your TV show. If you have a flight of stairs (more than three stairs), walk up and down them twice. Then you can go back to being sedentary for another hour until the signal comes to get up and move around again.

• Put a small barrier in the doorway of both the kitchen and the bathroom. It can be a box, a low gate or even some pots and pans. But it should be something you have to lift your knee up a few feet to step over. Lifting your knee moves your thigh bone (femur) in your hip socket.

Many folks past the age of 50 get pains in their hips because they never move their femurs. Thus, lubricating fluids stop flowing. Because it then takes more effort to move this large bone, it’s moved even less frequently. The entire joint becomes stiff and painful.

The solution is to move on a regular basis. An alarm clock prompt will help you do it. Gradually, movement of all the joints will become easier. You’ll be more flexible, and it will be easier to move around. The pains wrongly attributed to age will diminish or disappear.

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