Before the advent of agriculture 12,000 years ago, all humans were what archaeologists call hunter-gatherers, people who spent most of their time in search of food. If future archaeologists were to look at us now, they would surely call us “clicker-sitters” since we spend most of our days sitting on out bottoms clicking away at various electronic devices.
Between sitting in the car, at our desks, and in front of various electronic screens, the average person spends 10-12 hours a day sitting. That’s by far more time than we spend doing any other activity, including sleeping (which has gone down on average to 6.5 hours per night.)
This is definitely not just a US problem, either. At any given moment there are about 1 billion people online! (1)
Our Bodies Are Meant to Move
Our bodies are meant to move and all this sitting is making us sick. Sitting contributes to the epidemics of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. These diseases in turn are contributing to brain shrinkage, cognitive decline, and even Alzheimer’s. (2)
Exercise doesn’t just keep our bodies fit, it’s essential for brain fitness, too. It’s been said that exercise could be the most important thing you do to keep your brain in shape — even more important than thinking!
Hitting the gym regularly or taking a daily walk is not enough. It turns out that tacking exercise to an otherwise sedentary life doesn’t overcome the negative effects of too much sitting.
For most of us, making a total life overhaul that would be required to spend significantly less time sitting is just not practical. If you can’t see yourself leaving your sedentary job or trading in your car for a bike, here are some easy ways to spend less time sitting that can really make a difference.
Track Your Steps
Taking 10,000 steps per day has become a gold standard fitness milestone. But most people take under 3,000 steps a day. You won’t know how you fare unless you track your steps. That is where a step counter comes in. First use it to find out on average how many steps you are taking. Then use it to challenge yourself to reach the goal of 10,000 steps.
It’s been found that just using a step tracker automatically increases the user’s number of steps. If you are at all competitive, you will find yourself taking steps just to meet your goal.
Our favorite gadgets to help you meet your walking goals are from Fitbit. Clip the tiny Fitbit Zip to your waistband or stick it in a pocket and it will tell you the number of steps taken, distance walked, and calories burned.
Or upgrade to the Fitbit One wireless activity & sleep tracker. It does everything the Zip does plus it monitors how well you sleep. It’s the size of a flash drive and super easy to use. The people at Fitbit clearly think 10,000 steps a day is a worthy goal because that’s the default setting.
The latest trend in fitness trackers are those worn on the wrist. You may have seen celebrities or professional athletes wearing one. One benefit of a wrist band is that you are much less likely to lose it, break it, or run it through the wash.
Fitbit’s version is called the Flex. It’s the most affordable wristband and has received rave reviews from techie sites like Wired and PCMag.
Data from all Fitbit devices automatically sync to your computer or smartphone, too.
Stand Up for Your Health
Dr. Joan Vernikos, author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, contends that it’s not the many hours of sitting that’s the deal breaker, it’s how often you change position that matters. As a former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division, she was one of the primary doctors responsible for ensuring the health of the astronauts in space. She was in a unique position to observe the effects of weightlessness on the body and she found that astronauts were prematurely aging in space.
What she discovered seems counterintuitive, but the act of standing up is more effective than walking for counteracting the ill effects of sitting. It’s these little interactions with gravity that make the difference.
It sounds hard to believe but she found that one of the best (and easiest) things you can do is to stand up on and off frequently throughout the day, at least 30 times.
That sounds laughably easy, don’t you think? 😉 Simply keep a timer on your desk desk and never go longer than 20 minutes without getting up.
In this short video, she explains which functional activities are best at keeping us fit and healthy and why they are better than even formal exercise programs!
Trade in Your Chair
There’s a new trend in desks — standing desks. You can buy ready-made standing desks or you can jury-rig your own.
There are even treadmill desks. It may take some getting used to, but many people swear they think better when they are moving.
There are a wide variety of standing desks of all prices ranges (starting at $60). You can go as high-tech or as low-tech as you’d like.
In many cases a standing desk won’t be practical. Another option is to trade in your chair for an exercise ball, also sometimes called balance balls or stability balls. I’ve been using one exclusively for close to 10 years. I thought I’d give it a try, never suspecting it would be something I would go the distance with. Now I much prefer it to using a desk chair. I actually find it kind of fun! 😉
Sitting on a ball is an entirely different experience than plopping down in a chair. It’s active. When you first try it you’ll have to work at maintaining your balance. You’ll need to consciously make small adjustments or you will fall off. Loss of balance can be deadly as you age, so maintaining a good sense of balance is an excellent side benefit of using a balance ball.
It requires you to engage your core. Slouching is not an option — slouch and you will fall off. You can bounce, roll from side to side, and back and forth while you are reading. You can use it to do some quick stretches or crunches waiting for your computer to load.
When choosing an exercise ball, you don’t want to skimp. Be sure to get one that is burst-proof. It’s usually most cost-effective to get a kit that includes a pump.
Exercise balls come in different sizes. A 65 cm ball will fit the majority of people since it works for people from 5’5″ to 5’11”.
Modern life is all about efficiency and convenience. But making a few small changes — like taking more steps, getting up frequently, standing at your desk, or sitting on a ball — can have a significant impact on your overall fitness levels, well-being, and brain health.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Being sedentary is just one of the many ways the modern lifestyle takes a toll on your brain. If you suffer from stress, memory loss, brain fog, anxiety, depression, insomnia, indecision, or are easily overwhelmed these are all signs that your brain isn’t working as well as it should.
Deane Alban is the author of Brain Gold: The Anti-Aging Guide for Your Brain and co-founder of BeBrainFit.com, where you can learn how to keep your brain young, healthy, and fully-functioning for life.
Sign up for her newsletter and claim your FREE Special Bonus Report. This is information anyone interested in preserving their brain for the long haul must know!