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Why You Can't Be a Couch Potato Even if You Work Out

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 07/21/2010
Last Updated: 11/12/2018

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Bad news for all of you out there who think that it's okay to collapse onto the couch after a long, hard day – despite the fact that you worked hard at the gym that morning.

If this sounds familiar, that's because I wrote about it some months ago, after reading about the dangers of sitting. More time sitting translates into a greater likelihood of premature death. (No, I haven't managed to set up a desk above my treadmill – yet.)

And now an article appears in the magazine section of this past Sunday's New York Times, The Men Who Stare at Screens.

The benefit of regular exercise has been studied for decades. But what's new is the study of the dangers of inactivity i.e., SITTING. Even if men are active and exercise, the dangers of sitting too much are not counteracted by exercise. Studies found that if the men spent more than 23 hours a week watching TV and sitting in their cars, their chances of dying from heart disease were 64 percent greater than those who sat for 11 hours a week or less. And rats or mice who were not allowed to move around in their cages quickly develop unhealthy cellular changes in their muscles. It's thought that the lack of muscular contractions change things, and can lead to signs of insulin resistance and higher levels of fatty acids in the blood.

So it's not enough to be noble and visit the gym in the middle of the day, and then settle back into your chair and work? Or, after dinner, sink into the couch for a night of TV? Apparently not. As quoted in the article I mention above: "One does not undo the other."

Well, I say that's better than NOT going to the gym, but it also means we have to get mighty creative and find ways to stay vertical. It's time to sneak some standing into your life. Here's how:

1. Don't sit and talk on the phone – move! Every time my husband calls me, he gets super-annoyed with all the noise in the background. What ARE you doing? He wants to know. My answer: I'm not sitting. I'm using the time to do things like water the plants, clean the windows, put the laundry away, wipe off the counters…you get the idea.

2. I know. It's been a long day and you’re wiped. Go ahead and watch TV – but how about making a pact with yourself that during the commercials, you'll get up and do some walking in place, jumping jacks, lunges, push-ups, arm circles.

3. Use the stairs. I used to be lazy and leave things piled up on the stairs, saving them to take up in one trip. Now, I try hard not to let them pile up, instead taking them up one by one, as many times as I have to. When I'm tired and don't want to do it, I remind myself that each time I go up and down it's bonus exercise…and that usually works. (Same goes for picking things up that you drop. Each time you bend, it can be worked in as a squat, helping your legs and your butt at the same time.)

4. Cut out the electric helpers. Instead of using the food processor to chop, try chopping veggies by hand. You'll stand longer and use some elbow grease (and burn some calories, too). Better, don't buy the pre-cut or pre-washed produce; instead spend more time on your feet washing and chopping yourself.

5. Pace. I do this whenever I can. Sometimes people give me strange looks (they're probably thinking I'm hyperactive or impatient or something…well, maybe I am just a little) but I don't really care. If you know you have a long wait ahead at the doctor or dentist's office, make an effort to stand up and walk in the hallway for a few minutes. When you're home and everyone else is sitting around and chatting, stand up and walk around. Or keep light hand weights and a big exercise ball in the main living area of your house and use them instead of settling into the couch.

How do you like to move?


These are great tips, Sheryl! I must admit, as a writer, I spend waaayyyy too much time sitting. I do try to do some sort of movement every day, though, whether it's walking or biking or pulling weeds.

I recently was reminded how therapeutic "play" can be. When my kids and I swim in the bay, we have this goofy yellow inflatable raft that we try to commandeer from each other. A half-hour of that makes a great aerobic workout!


My computer is my biggest sitting magnet. Not so much the TV. Oh, it's just ugly.

Me, too. It's like a magnet that keeps me glued to my chair. I have to come out of my trance to remember to step away...

It is hard to remember to keep moving when it seems like our first instinct is always to sit down! Great tips!

These are great tips! I spend far too much time in front of a computer. Right now my life consists of lots of incremental little activities because I'm raising small children, but even so I need to consciously remember to incorporate enough physical movement into my day.

I'll bet those incremental little activities, when you really think about it, add up to a LOT, Christine.

Yikes! This sounds eerily like my boyfriend's lifestyle. And let's face it, I did Zumba and abs class earlier tonight, but now I'm zonked out in front of my computer again, so I'm guilty of this, too. Good info to know, Sheryl!

Count yourself ahead of the game by doing such a good workout, Susan! At least you're working that into your (sitting) life.

But Sheryl -- how do you *not* sit if you're a writer? Highly discouraging.

I know, I know. Counterintuitive. You can't NOT sit...you just have to make sure you stand up periodically and move around. Or, work standing up. I do that sometimes on my laptop - I put it on my kitchen counter and stand while I type. Breaks up the monotony of sitting, too. I guess I'm just naturally restless...

I go up and down the stairs so many times a day; it really is like 10-second cardio segments each time!

That's a great way to sneak in some cardio, Erin. Every time I do laundry (which is in my basement), there's a cardio workout for sure.

All the more reason to find the parking spot the longest distance from the entrance to the mall!

Not to mention having less of a chance of getting dings in your car~

Read the same story on that study, too, of course. It made me feel kind of depressed, you know, may as well throw in (the workout) towel.

But the truth is, for a whole host of reasons -- including spinal health -- sitting really is our enemy and we all do so much of it these days.

Thanks for the handy and timely guide for ways to get out of the chair.

Yes, sitting is so bad for your spine and that's a very good reason to get out of the chair. Don't throw in that workout towel, Sarah...there's hope.

Good reminder--although I've been sitting at my computer for quite a few hours now, I'm thinking that's not much better than sitting watching TV. I love the idea of doing a little exercising while you're on the phone.

who'd ever think that a phone and exercise would go together?

This inspires me to use the yoga ball at my computer instead of a chair!

I think I'll have try that too!

Interesting - I have bad circulation to begin with, and a sedentary lifestyle is probably the reason why. Is it dangerous to lay down as well? Or is it just sitting, with all of your weight on your butt and a bend at the waist?


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