I bet I can guess what you are doing at this very moment. And it may be hurting your heart.
The New York Times recently wrote about a new study that was published in the journal Circulation that found that sitting for extended periods of time straight up damages your heart, as evidenced by chronically elevated levels of a certain protein called troponin. Apparently, these proteins are produced by cardiac muscle cells (the cells your heart is comprised of) when the cells are hurt or dying. A heart attack, for example, releases a wave of these proteins.
The study looked at the troponin levels of participants, and after controlling for all other variables, found that those who remained sedentary (the report talked about 10+ hours per day) had higher levels of troponin that those who exercised or were more active, even with low key activities like walking. The levels of troponin in the sedentary folks were high enough to indicate a “subclinical” cardiac injury. Think not quite a heart attack, but enough injury to be worrisome.
The thing I think I love the most about a lot of these health and physiologic studies is that they use #science to confirm what most of us understand on an internal level. In this case- sitting and remaining sedentary for long periods of time is not good for you, and is likely to be damaging your heart.
I think the thing that is interesting about these results is that it takes being sedentary out of the realm of benign, and shows that being sedentary is actually actively damaging your heart. They say sitting is the new smoking, and it actually makes sense when you look at this study. You can’t deny that one cigarette does damage to your lungs, and now, you can’t deny that sitting does damage damaging your heart.
But what is a chair-bound office worker to do? I don’t think hope is lost, even for those of us glued to a computer for 8 hours a day. Here are a couple tricks and tips to keep yourself moving, even at the office:
- Be Cognizant of Your Movement
I have an Apple Watch that keeps track of the time, and dings me if I haven’t moved enough during any one hour. When I’m in the throes of work, it can be annoying, but I usually like the notification, because so much time can slip away without realizing it. Keep track of what time it is, and aim to get up and walk around a little bit each hour. It doesn’t sound like much, but just the simple act of moving keeps your blood flowing.
- Exercise on days when you know you will be sedentary
My takeaway from the study was not that you are doomed if you work in an office, but that if you do work in an office, it is even that much more important to exercise with intention on a regular basis, especially when you know your day will be sedentary. If you don’t have a job that is naturally active, it is even more important for you to get exercise in on work days. If you have a long flight, you can prepare yourself for the journey by getting some fitness in. According to this study, even walking is helpful in terms of lowering troponin levels, so any way you can fit in exercise helps. I like to exercise first thing in the morning before work, because that’s when I have the time and wherewithall to do it, rather than after work. If I was queen of the world I would go back to exercising about 3 or 4 pm like I did when I was in school, because I think that’s when my energy levels are the highest. But for right now, morning works best for me. On weekends, I am more flexible with my workouts because I am usually more active. Experiment to see what works for you.
- Embrace activity as an aspect of everyday life
This is how you can really combat a sedentary job- by embracing movement and activity as a part of the fabric of your life. It’s been said before but I’ll say it again- you don’t need to park in the very closest parking space. You don’t need a van door that will shut itself. You can walk to the restaurant, even though you think it’s too far. Rake instead of blowing leaves. Use a push mower instead of a riding mower. If you look at every moment as an opportunity to move, it gradually becomes easier and easier, and you will be way more active without even realizing it.
When we moved to Atlanta, I was lucky enough to get a job a little over a mile from the house. At first I thought, “oh what a bummer! So close but it’s just a little too far to walk!” But then, there was a beautiful day and I wanted to enjoy the weather. I realized how pleasant the walk was, versus sitting in Atlanta traffic. Then, I made a challenge for myself- try to walk to work two times per week. Eventually, I built up, and I felt antsy when I didn’t walk to work, like I had this extra energy with nowhere to go. Just stretch a little bit every day, and it will become more natural as time goes on. The more you can weave activity into the fabric of your every day life, the easier it will be to continue moving, and the healthier your heart will be because of it.
I am grateful for studies like this one because they provide us with an impetus to make a change. Happy moving!