woman stretching at desk

Are You Sitting Too Much?

Although cardiovascular diseases remain the leading causes of illness and death in the U.S., physical inactivity is one of the risk factors you have the ability to change. In fact, your risk of dying from heart disease increases by 20 to 30 percent if you are physically inactive. 

James Levine, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and inventor of the treadmill desk, coined the term, “Sitting is the New Smoking.” Studies have shown inactivity increases your risk of illness similarly to that of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. Around half of American adults meet the physical activity guideline of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week. The most alarming stat is that only one quarter of U.S. children and youth ages 6 to 17 meet the guideline of 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

The benefits of physical activity are vast. Being active promotes cardiorespiratory fitness, mental health, lowers stress, improves sleep, helps to control cholesterol, decreases blood pressure, lowers blood sugar, prevents osteoporosis and helps maintain a healthy weight. It also lowers your risk of developing chronic illnesses (coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer) and dying from those illnesses. Risk of dying increases most in those who are most sedentary.

What is keeping us from moving? It’s our busy schedules, our lack of enjoyment because perhaps we don’t enjoy the gym or haven’t found an activity we like, not being motivated, low social support, and misconceptions regarding the type, intensity, duration and frequency we need in order to lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

How do we achieve the physical activity guideline? Moderate physical activity is considered a brisk walk (around three to four miles per hour), heavy cleaning (such as mopping, vacuuming, mowing the lawn), light biking and tennis. Vigorous exercise includes hiking, running approximately six miles per hour, heavy biking, and playing sports like soccer and basketball.

In a study of runners, it was found that after 15 years, they had a 30 percent lower risk of dying and 45 percent lower risk of cardiovascular death relative to non-runners, which equates to living three years longer – even in those running five to 10 minutes daily.

Consider all of your activities and hobbies, and how you can be more physically active. Then, set a goal. You’ll want to self-monitor your behavior to get feedback about progress toward your goal. This is how fitness trackers are beneficial.

Use of consumer electronics such as mobile phones and wearable devices that interface with software applications give us information about our activities and behaviors. Smartphones are the most common mobile device and most people now interact with them in excess of three hours per day. It is now possible to measure heart rate, heart rhythm, physical activity and gain measures of fitness and track it over time.

We can all benefit from sitting less and finding ways to move more throughout our days. Do it for yourself, and set a good example for your family. We are all important, and your health is something worth working for.

Andrea Vitello, MD, is a cardiologist with Overlake Clinics Cardiology. Watch her speak on this very topic at Overlake's Eastside Women's Symposium.