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Sitting Can Be Lethal?

How many hours per day do you spend sitting in a squad car, behind a desk, writing reports, in your Lazy Boy at home, on a stadium bench watching little league, or at a coffee shop?  Would you consider yourself an active person, or are you like many who lead a sedentary lifestyle?  According to the Mayo Clinic, 50 – 70% of people spend 6 or more hours a day sitting.  A sedentary lifestyle is measured by how long a person’s body stays at rest.  Even if you routinely run 3 miles before each shift, but then spend the rest of the day sitting down with no further regular activity, you lead a sedentary lifestyle.  However, if you didn’t run those three miles, but spend most every day on your feet, moving, and consistently active then your lifestyle is active.  

It’s easy to get in the habit of sitting too much but it comes at a great cost: simply put, it is surprisingly hard on, and able to even wreck, your body.  Our bodies are built to be in motion more than they are to be at rest.  Some of the ways our bodies are harmed are:

  • Causes back pain for the average person, but LEOs are at greater risk.  It’s hard to have good posture when we sit, but add into the mix a duty belt, a vest, government issued office chairs, and seats in squad cars; most of you can probably state you have pain in your shoulders, neck, hips, and lower back. 
  • When you sit more than you exercise, you experience muscle atrophy – your muscles weaken very quickly.  Your muscle fibers lose flexibility, bulk and mass, and gain fat storage instead of turning those fats into muscle energy.  Balance also becomes compromised, which is a needed skill if caught needing to quickly run, return fire, or go hands on with a resistant suspect.
  • Puts you at risk for diseases such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease, poor blood flow and circulation, blood clots, and sleep apnea.  Chronic lack of activity also puts you at higher risk for depression and anxiety. 
  • Lowers motivation to be productive and creates a mental feeling of being in a fog.  It is hard to put a body in motion after being at rest.  In a job where you are paid to respond, it is important to keep moving to maintain mental clarity, feel confident in your body’s responsiveness, and to handle situations efficiently.
  • The average person is at higher risk of becoming injured or disabled, but in a profession where bodies are utilized and strength is needed, we then become at higher risk if our muscles have weakened. 
  • Weight gain and lower metabolism is also a result of sitting too much.

It is easy to get into a lifestyle where sitting becomes more prevalent than moving and being physically active.  Especially with our connectivity to laptops, tablets, smartphones, TVs, and all other forms of electronics.  We don’t even need to get off the couch to answer a phone or change a channel.  We can do most anything sitting down now, including shopping.  As a result our brains are becoming sedentary as well and begin to forget about our bodies need to be physically active so developing the habit of a healthy active lifestyle takes work and intentionality; it takes 6 months to a year to rewire the brain into a new path of thinking.  Some simple life changes to make now are:

  • For every 50 minutes you sit – spend 10 minutes moving around in activities such as stretching, walking, standing, or simple calisthenics.
  • Invest in a pedometer or better yet an activity tracker to stay active between workouts.  Use it for a week to gain of baseline of steps and then increase the steps by a 1,000 per day for a week working towards the goal of 10,000 steps per day which is roughly 5 miles.  An activity monitor, such as a Fitbit, will track steps, calories, miles, weight, sleep, and how many minutes you are active each day, week, and month. 
  • Begin thinking of physical activity as something to be done all day long instead of limited to workouts.  When time is not of the essence, park in the furthest spot away from the grocery store so you get in some extra steps.  Stand while you are talking on the phone instead of sitting.  Take the stairs instead of an elevator or instead of going car to car, get up and stand outside of your squads.  Simple changes make big differences with healthy benefits.
  • Walk your dog daily.
  • When watching TV get up and move around during commercial breaks.
  • Run or walk fast when doing errands.
  • Play with your kids 15-30 minutes a day.
  • Get into the habit of going for a family walk after dinner.
  • Walk to a co-workers desk instead of sending an email or a text. 
  • After having a coffee break, take a walk.
  • Start a new hobby such as cycling, rollerblading, running, or swimming.

Staying active pays off; inactivity takes a significant toll on the body.  The human body, with approximately 640 muscles and 206 bones, is made to move. Yet, hi-tech advances in civilized societies within the last 50 years have created an environment that promotes sedentary behaviors.  Changing habits from sedentary to active takes time and effort. Begin making simple changes with the goal of increasing your activity monthly

2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Summary

Key Guidelines for Adults

  • All adults should avoid inactivity. Some physical activity is better than none, and adults who participate in any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits.
  • For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous intensity aerobic activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and preferably, it should be spread throughout the week.
  • For additional and more extensive health benefits, adults should increase their aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate intensity, or 150 minutes a week of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond this amount.
  • Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities that are moderate or high intensity and involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.