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

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?

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