The Mayo Clinic Diet blog

Get moving and improve your health

By Donald Hensrud, M.D. June 3, 2011

We all know it's important to be physically active. However, knowing and doing are 2 different things and putting that into practice in our daily lives can be challenging.

Physical activity can be divided up into exercise and activities throughout our daily lives. As discussed in our book "The Mayo Clinic Diet", any activity is good activity. Whether it's exercise, walking, taking the stairs, whatever — it's all good. It helps us burn calories, decrease our health risks, and feel better along with many other benefits.

Some recent studies have provided us with new information about the health risks of being sedentary. One study ("Journal of the American College of Cardiology", Jan. 18, 2011) totaled up all the time that people spent sitting while watching television, working on a computer, etc, over a period of years. In this study and others, the people who sat the most had the highest risk of heart disease and dying — a pretty important outcome.

What was most fascinating, however, was that this was true regardless of how much exercise someone did. In other words, even among people who exercised, those who sat the longest had higher mortality.

What does this mean? Let's say 2 people exercise vigorously 5 days per week for 30 minutes per session; a good amount of exercise by anyone's standards. One of these people has a desk job and sits most of the day. The other one is in sales and is on their feet most of the day. According to these new studies, the person who is on their feet most of the day has fewer health risks even though they both exercise the same amount.

We all know we should try to be active some of the time. But this new information suggests we should also try to not be sedentary the rest of the time. And while they sound the same, technically they aren't. How can we do this?

Well, certainly continue to exercise. If you have a desk job, consider taking frequent breaks to stand and move around. When talking on your cell phone, for example, stand up and move about. If you have to meet with someone, consider a walking meeting.

Perhaps the most important thing to do at home is not sit in front of the television for hours on end. Standing and minimally moving around burns 2 1/2 times more calories than sitting. As I'm typing this, I'm getting used to standing at my desk (and thinking about how I can raise it higher!). Awareness is the first step in solving any problem. Realize it's important to both move and not sit around. Both of these strategies will help burn calories, manage weight, and improve health. Please share your ideas.

14 Comments Posted

Jun. 03, 2011