Are You an “ACTIVE” Couch Potato?

By Jackie Oliver, DPT

A big draw to the city of Bozeman, Montana is the proximity to recreational activities and easy access to outdoors. In this community, we are above average when it comes to being active but have we really decreased our health risks? We exercise on a regular basis so we don’t have to worry about the slogan “sitting is the new smoking”, right? Wrong. A growing body of evidence has demonstrated a decreased life expectancy for those individuals who sit for most of the day, even if they exercise on a regular basis. It is entirely possible to meet the current physical activity guidelines outlined by the World Health Organization, while still being incredibly sedentary.

Researchers have coined this, “THE ACTIVE COUCH POTATO”. For example, someone that bikes to and from work but spends his work day behind a desk and then hits the couch as soon as he returns home might be considered an active couch potato. Regular physical activity does not make you immune to the increased health risks that accompany being sedentary. In fact, you are at the same risk as your less active counterparts.

The average US adult spends more than eight hours a day engaged in sedentary behaviors during waking hours. This could include commuting to and from work, watching TV, or sitting behind a desk. Sitting for an extended period of time slows our metabolic level, slowing circulation and ultimately using less blood sugar and burning less fat putting us at an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. The slowing circulation also causes fewer feel-good hormones to reach your brain so you may be more likely to be depressed. Prolonged periods of inactivity is distinctly related to risk of chronic disease, independent of physical activity. It is not only related to the amount of sedentary time that is important but also the manner in which it is accumulated.

Don’t get me wrong, being active and going for that early morning run before work is important but being inactive the rest of the day seems to depreciate those health benefits substantially. Exercise alone can’t make up for the ills of idleness.

So what can we do about it? Experts in the field suggest trying to stand for 10 minutes out of every hour. This can be accomplished by simply answering phone calls on your feet or placing your folders away from your desk so accessing them requires you to get up and move. Even brief, one minute breaks to walk up and down the hall can have significant benefits to your health. To help stay more consistent, build these micro-breaks into your routine so they become habit. My suggestion would be to take a closer look at how you are spending your leisure time and replace the sedentary portions with something more active but fun such as gardening or sports.

The important thing to remember is that sitting is a modifiable health risk and can be easily remedied with a little creativity and a small commitment to not spending so much time in your chair. Get up, move, and be healthy!

Jackie Oliver, DPT of Excel Physical Therapy in Bozeman and Manhattan, Montana is Doctor of Physical Therapy. Because of her college sports background, Jackie loves working with athletes and has experience with biomechanical training and injury prevention in sports. She is also trained as a Diabetes Lifestyle Coach and has helped individuals decrease their risk of developing diabetes.