(This piece first appeared on, and is reprinted with the permission of, the fabulous website Lustre)
Knee-deep into my “post-retirement life,” I frequently find myself busier than I’ve ever been. So many hours are spent at the theater, sharing meals with family and friends, traveling across the country to visit grandchildren or long periods at my computer, as I launch my new entrepreneurial work. I’m active and busy and engaged. But I’ve also come to realize something essential: I’m sitting way too much. Particularly as I work to build a website devoted to all things aging (with an emphasis on health and well being), the irony is that I’m making myself less healthy.
By now, you’ve probably heard the slogan: Sitting is the new smoking. I can’t say how true that is, as I’ve never been a smoker. But what I can say is that I read a lot about “healthy aging” and the one piece of advice I read over and over is that you need to stand up and keep moving. Now I’m no couch potato. I work out at the gym, I’m constantly walking around New York City and I run way too many “sprints” trying to catch the subway before it leaves the station. I clock my steps every day and I try to watch what I eat.
But if cornered, I would be forced to admit that my current lifestyle is less than healthy and that’s because of all the sitting I do. At this point, I’ve read many research studies that connect sitting with a multitude of health problems as we age—everything from failing cognition to diabetes to heart disease, let alone the stiff and achy joints you feel every time you get up from a chair.
If you dig a little, it’s easy to see how this problem developed over centuries, for me and for most of us in the modern world. Apparently, it’s only been in the last couple of hundred years that mankind has sat as much as we do now. Previously, if you sat at all, it was on the ground and or in a hard wooden chair, not in a comfy seat you never wanted to leave. Actually, for many around the world, sitting is still somewhat of an anomaly- squatting is the more common practice, and it’s one that’s better for your health. Our modern habits of sitting and leading a sedentary life are not the way mother nature intended we live. Even those of us who exercise and are physically active are still at risk if we spend a lot of time sitting in front of our televisions or computers, as the lack of movement accelerates aging and opens the door to the ailments and diseases that can accompany growing older.
The best article I’ve recently read on the topic, Solving Sitting: A Guide to Optimizing Your Movement for Health, Longevity & Performance by Keenan Eriksson makes clear that even regular exercise is not sufficient to counter the unhealthy effects of “stagnation,” or, in common parlance, too much sitting. So what’s the recommendation? Get up. That’s really it. Stand up approximately every 30 minutes throughout the day. Eriksson recommends setting a permanent timer on your watch or phone that will remind you to get out of your chair every 30 minutes.
Once standing, you don’t need to engage in any demanding exercise routine (of course a few stretches may be beneficial) and I recognize this may not be an option in some circumstances (those sitting behind you in the theater may not appreciate your efforts at healthier living). But as I’ve come to realize, in most circumstances it’s not very hard to stand up and move around every half hour. The break is good for me, both to move my bones and clear my head.
The only problem for me now? How do I find and set the timer on my phone? That’s a challenge I’ve yet to master!