When I was a kid, my mother used to say, "Go play!" - which always meant two things: 1) she needed a break from us; and 2) it was time for us to go outside and find something fun to do.
These days, many of us translate "Go play," to mean "sit down," and that's become quite a problem. If your life is anything like mine, you probably spend six to eight hours each day sleeping and 30-60 minutes being active (walking, exercising, etc.). That leaves 15 hours for everything else. So what do you do with all that time?
I sat down (irony) yesterday and crunched the numbers for myself, and here's what I discovered. When I add the time I spend at my computer (writing, corresponding, and doing work-related tasks) to the time I spend commuting, eating, reading, and playing games, I typically spend 12 (sometimes even 14) of those 15 hours sitting. That's not good, and here's why.
A recent study at the University of South Carolina considered adult men and their risk of dying from heart disease. In a nutshell, the study indicates that sitting a lot can mean dying sooner.
The study shows that men who were sedentary more than 23 hours per week had a 64% greater risk of dying from heart disease - even if they routinely exercised - than those who reported 11 or fewer hours a week of sedentary activity. These numbers suggest that regular uninterrupted sedentary behavior may be even riskier than smoking.
A sedentary lifestyle can also be a risk factor for diabetes, colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and obesity. In other words, if you spend long periods each day in your chair without moving, you're asking for a world of trouble.
I should know. In 2008 I developed a painful compressed disc in my neck that required months of physical therapy to cure. It was caused by a combination of prolonged periods at my computer, poor posture, and one other major factor.
Do you remember 2008? Do you remember Fallout 3, GTA IV, Far Cry 2, LittleBigPlanet, No More Heroes, Left 4 Dead, World of Goo, Persona 4, and Burnout Paradise? I do and so does my neck. I was a gaming maniac in 2008, and nearly all my recreation that year occurred sitting on my butt. And I paid the price.
So what can you do? Easy. Take breaks. A recent study at the University of Queensland, Australia, showed the importance of "avoiding prolonged uninterrupted periods of sedentary (primarily sitting) time," and recommended taking regular breaks to walk, stretch, or otherwise get up and move.
The study reported that "increased breaks in sedentary time were beneficially associated with waist circumference, BMI, triglycerides, and 2-h plasma glucose." Even one-minute mini-breaks, once an hour throughout the day, can make a difference. The point is to use your big muscles to remind them not to shut down, which they're prone to do when you sit in a chair for hours at a time.
Apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, and iOS can remind you to take a break at intervals you determine (sounds crazy, I know, but I need help remembering). And you can always do little things like play Portal 2 standing up and perform a little wiggle dance at every loading screen. Or something. You're a gamer. You can do this. Use your imagination. Just get up!
FYI, I recommend Patti Neighmond's recent report on NPR, which inspired this post and includes tips on "beating the cubicle trap."