Moving Around Can Improve Your Health
The computer and TV have been our greatest allies and our greatest enemies. While the computer promotes efficiency for work-related tasks, it also promotes inactivity and low levels of energy expenditure. The TV became the family's center of social entertainment in the mid-1950s, but since then it has bombarded people into watching hours and hours of mindless shows at very low energy expenditure levels.
We're spending a lot of our time in front of a computer or TV, and our health is suffering as a result.
Today, we're starting to learn about how bad things have really become. In a recent paper by Owen, et al. (July 2010 Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews), researchers found that prolonged sitting (which usually occurs in front of a TV set, computer or in transit) leads to substantially greater health risks than had been previously reported. Here are some of the key findings:
- TV viewing (i.e., sedentary behavior) is linked to obesity, diabetes, impaired glucose uptake, and insulin resistance, all of which lead to higher medical costs and poorer quality of life;
- Energy expenditure studies indicate that in adults, on average, 60% of waking hours are spent being sedentary;
- Individuals who are more active throughout the day and sit less are better off than individuals who exercise once per day and spend the rest of the day doing sedentary activities.
The new findings by Owen, et al., raise an important question regarding the health of people with physical disabilities. What are the implications of their findings for individuals who use power and manual wheelchairs and spend all or most of the day sitting? The likely answer is that sedentary behavior may be an even greater health threat, given the lower rate of daily, sporadic activity, and suggests that we need new and creative ways to generate more movement (not necessarily exercise) among people with disabilities spread across the day.
A primary goal of rehabilitation programs is to restore or maintain a person's ability to be as independent as possible. Improved physical fitness through increased physical activity has been shown to be important for health maintenance and disease prevention. Now is a good time for rehabilitation professionals and health care providers to emphasize not only regular physical activity, but also encourage more movement throughout the day at very low intensity levels. Shifting body weight while sitting in a wheelchair (also good for pressure relief), fidgeting (tapping, moving head, arms, etc.), gestures, etc., provide a cumulative health benefit that, when added to regular fitness-related activity, will lower the risk of chronic diseases. While the results are still emerging, the data seem clear: We all have to learn to get away from the TV or computer every hour on the hour and as often as possible. Our health depends on it!