A quick glance over the course of human history evidences one great fact about the human body: it was built to move. Our early ancestors were nearly always on the move, and even as recently as 150 years ago, our agrarian society incorporated full body movement as part of the regular work day.
However, in the last 60 years, workers in the United States have progressively become more and more sedentary. Not just in their office work, but in their homes as well. In fact, some studies report that the average American adult spends between 9-12 hours a day simply sitting.
And we are paying for this shift in lifestyle, not with our wallets, but with our health. Type 2 diabetes – often called adult onset diabetes â€“ is one of the most common forms of diseases on the rise in our country today, and health providers maintain that it is reaching epidemic proportions. The cause? Sedentary lifestyle, with its resulting lack of exercise and physical movement.
The Impact of Sitting On Our Body
The body uses glucose for energy, but when a sedentary lifestyle is the norm and high calorie foods are the principal diet, the body stores excess as fat rather than burning it off through physical exertion. Although genetics also play a part, obesity contributes to the inability to utilize the insulin produced by the body, or to produce any insulin at all. This results in high glucose levels in the blood eventually creating organ or blood vessel damage, heart attack, stroke and other health issues.
What has precipitated the sedentary lifestyle thatâ€™s so predominate in advanced cultures and what can be done about it? A number of factors come into play:
The Advent of the Industrial Revolution
The invention of the cotton gin, by Eli Whitney, began the Industrial Revolution in the US. At the time, no one realized the massive change that machinery created in human health. In the past, long hours spent laboring in the fields or herding livestock were typical. However, after the Industrial Revolution, people worked in factories or offices, and mostly stood or sat. Calories expended became less over the decades, and obesity and diabetes rose.
Henry Fordâ€™s Contribution
To make matters worse – at least in terms of physical health â€“ the invention of the automobile changed the world of transportation. Certainly, no one would argue the advantages of the piston engine, or its impact for allowing food and goods to be transported great distances. However, personal transportation by auto superseded walking – particularly walking long distances. The physiological benefits of physical movement – which included burning glucose and thereby reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes – were lost.
The article, â€œType 2 Diabetes: Risk Factors,â€ by the Mayo Clinic staff states:
â€œThe less active you are, the greater your risk of type 2 diabetes. Physical activity helps you control your weight, uses up glucose as energy and makes your cells more sensitive to insulin.â€
Philo Farnsworthâ€™s Invention
If the above factors werenâ€™t enough, one other change greatly impacted human health: the television. Many decry the TV as one of the biggest causes for the rise in Type 2 diabetes.
Americans spend significant amounts of leisure time watching TV, with some researchers suggesting we spend as much as 5 hours a day glued to the tube. A study mentioned in the Journal of the American Medical Association sheds light on this alarming trend and the impact it has on our health:
â€œWhile the associations between time spent viewing TV and risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease were linear, the risk of all-cause mortality appeared to increase with TV viewing duration of greater than 3 hours per day.â€
Even the most diehard TV watchers canâ€™t deny that sitting in front of the tube is damaging their health and creating a risk to life.
In light of such facts, what can our culture do to stem the rising tide? The solution is simple; we must sit less and move more. However, living in a work and leisure culture that is primarily oriented toward sitting requires some effort to find ways to incorporate more movement into your routine.
Solutions At Home
When working to overcome a sedentary lifestyle at home, quite simply, you should just turn off the TV and walk. Walk for recreation, for exercise, and as a method of transportation. Â According to the Mayo Clinic, walking can:
Â â€œReduce your risk of or manage type 2 diabetes â€¦ Research shows that regular, brisk walking can reduce the risk of heart attack by the same amount as more vigorous exercise, such as jogging.â€
Taking the initiative to implement and dedicate a portion of your leisure time to a regular workout routine is also an investment that will pay big rewards in terms of your overall health and happiness.
If you cannot find time to work out or donâ€™t have the capability to go for long walks outside your residence, you should find creative ways to incorporate more movement into your activities. For example, dancing as you vacuum your living room burns far more calories than simply pushing the vacuum back and forth. You can also consider additional tips on ways to convert your sedentary lifestyle.
Solutions At Work
At work you should actively look for ways to be more physically active before sitting at your desk all day. Park farther away and take the stairs.
In addition, implement movement in your workflow. Productively changing positions frequently and taking small breaks from sitting is an important ergonomic principle that actually enhances your overall job satisfaction and productivity.
Personally investing, or encouraging your management to invest, in high quality office furniture that allows for sit-stand workflow is also important. This type of office furniture recognizes that work that honors movement and the full range of body motion is better not just for you, but for your company as well. VersaTables offers several sit-stand workstation options, and is also happy to provide custom furniture bids for your specific needs.
In addition to using ergonomically designed office furniture that promotes movement, you can also work to develop good work habits that include doing short, simple exercises at the desk. You could even walk to the water cooler a few times a day. Just tell your boss it might help prevent diabetes, and save you from an early grave.