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Is Sitting Truly the New Smoking?

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Sitting is a part of life, yes. But we’re sitting so much these days, and it’s catching up to us. “In recent years, more and more attention has been brought to the potentially harmful side effects of spending too much time in a seated position,” says Justin Russ, a strength and conditioning coach for IMG Academy in Florida. “Excessive sitting can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity.” A recent study even compared sitting to smoking.

Unfortunately, for many of us, whether we work out or not, we’re spending relatively equal parts of our days on our rear ends — in the car, at our desks, on the couch, you name it. Research from Northwestern University shows that women who regularly exercise spend just as much time sitting as do women who are inactive. And a 2015 meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that time spent sitting, regardless of exercise, is associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality, heart disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

So, is there any way to counter the ill effects of sitting? Or are we doomed?

New research suggests that it is possible to counteract “sitting disease.” The thing is, it requires more activity than what organizations like the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association recommend.

For instance, a 2015 Circulation review of 12 studies involving more than 370,000 men and women found that those who followed the AHA’s 30-minute daily guidelines were associated with “modest reductions” in heart failure risk. However, those who spent two and four times that amount enjoyed a “substantial risk reduction” of 20% and 35%, respectively. Basically, the more you move, the less risk your desk job poses to your health.

Meanwhile, a 2016 study of more than 1 million adults published in The Lancet found that exercising one hour for every eight hours spent sitting results in a significant reduction — and in some cases, elimination — in the risk of death from heart disease, diabetes and some cancers associated with sitting.

The news gets better: Fortunately for all of the time-strapped people out there, that hour per day doesn’t have to happen in one chunk. You can spread it out, according to researchers: in the gym, at the office, on the way to pick your kids up from school, anywhere.

Here are five tips to help you exercise your way out of the negative effects of sitting, no matter how many hours you spend each day on your rear end:

1. Steer clear of the exercise machines.

“What do 90% of exercise machines have in common? They place the exerciser in a seated position,” Russ says. He recommends swapping out exercise machine workouts for functional free-weight workouts centered around basic human movement patterns like the squat, deadlift, lunge, pull and rotate.

2. Take hourly mini breaks.

“If you sit at a desk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., try to move every hour throughout the day,” says Tonya Dugger, an American Council on Exercise-certified trainer and group fitness manager at Equinox in Chicago. She notes that moving even two to three minutes every hour can get blood moving to keep your body healthy. Try downloading an app that lets you set it so that every hour, your screen dims, a “break” theme appears and you’re encouraged to get up. Try performing one round of a body-weight circuit in your cubicle every hour. (We promise that you won’t get too sweaty.)

3. Watch your “active minutes.”

Many fitness trackers display not just steps taken per day but also “active minutes,” which can help you gauge your active undertakings that don’t involve putting one foot in front of the other. After all, pushups won’t count toward your step totals, but they will certainly help you combat sitting. “Take advantage of the data to motivate yourself to hit new numbers,” he says.

4. Schedule walking meetings.

Apart from getting you on your feet, walking meetings are actually more productive than those held in chairs, says Kathleen Hale, founder of Chair Free Project. Start with holding meetings with co-workers whom you believe would be receptive to the idea,” she says. “As others see you happily walking and chatting, the movement just might catch on.”

5. Name one task a standing one.

“To remind ourselves to get out of our chairs, we need a cue,” Hale says. “Pick a task that you can do while standing and make it your ‘get up’ cue. Maybe it’s talking on the phone, reviewing documents or even checking social media. When it is time to perform whichever task you picked, stand up to get the job done. Even these short breaks from sitting can really make a difference.”

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How To Find A Workout Buddy

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Hey, you don’t need to be afraid to admit:

It can get lonely out there.

Whether you’re on the track, in the pool or deadlifting pieces of scrap metal in the local junk yard, working out is usually a solo grind.

And while sitting in the back row of spin class or running next to headphone-wearing treadmill zombies might feel like solidarity, it’s actually closer to solitude. And that’s not a bad thing. Working out is a time to focus on yourself, to clear your head. In many ways it’s therapeutic to have that time alone.

But getting a rigorous sweat in doesn’t mean you have to discipline yourself in some dark workout dungeon. Even when Bruce Wayne was trying to escape the Pit in “The Dark Knight Rises,” he had all of his prison boys chanting and cheering him on. And that’s one of the great things about workout buddies (and prison buddies, I suppose).

There’s a sense that, “yeah, this is tough, but we’re all in this together.” So do yourself a favor, and consider calling a workout buddy once in awhile.

But don’t call just anybody.

You must weigh pros and cons — and consider the most prominent prior examples. Below are some readily available options for you to evaluate:

YOUR ROOMMATE

If you’re a morning workout person (or want to be), this option is worth exploring. Somebody who is most likely within shouting distance when you wake up is going to make it harder for you to sleep in and slack off. Same goes for sharing a fridge. If you’re trying to eat healthy, your roomie will make it harder for you to sneak Ben and Jerry’s. If you can commit to a routine, you’ll be able to easily motivate each other to get up in the morning, hit the gym and stay disciplined.

Con: If you don’t prefer the same gym. Or if you hate your roommate.

Favorite example: Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Zook (Wyatt Russell) in the workout montage scene in “22 Jump Street.” The QB/WR duo relentlessly pumping iron in their room together — literally that’s all they do.

YOUR RIVAL

Nothing gets the juices flowing like an old nemesis from your playing days. Ideally this person is somebody you competed against. There was a little bad blood, but time (and maturity) have buried that hatchet. In a real best-case scenario, you can find a situation to play against each other in a sport like pick-up basketball and train after. I assure you even the oldest rival will bring out the best in you. Who knows? You may even dispel post-workout awkwardness and become friends.

Con: You haven’t matured as much as you thought, and a hard box out turns into a full blown melee during your Thursday night ZogSports basketball league.

Favorite example: Rocky and Apollo Creed training montage in “Rocky 3.” The beach run/water hug is the stuff dreams are made of.

YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER

This pertains to those couples who don’t live together yet (otherwise, see “your roommate” above). It also pertains more to couples who have been seeing each other for a bit — although I have heard of a few examples of spin class first dates (but won’t comment further). A glimpse into each other’s routine is fun, and playful competition is good (until somebody starts to get sensitive). Working out with your SO can also be a very nice dispute-resolution technique, both for very effectively settling arguments passive-aggressively (see: running with headphones in) and not-so-passive-aggressively settling arguments (see: boxing class).

Con: This works best as a change-up to a routine not something that becomes super-regular. And if you’re the overly competitive type, it could spell disaster for the relationship…

Favorite example: Couple of the athletic moment — Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton. They’re just like you and your girl/boyfriend, save for the fact they are world-record holding track and field stars.

YOUR TRAINER

Every once in awhile, it just helps to be coached again. Whether you’re learning proper techniques for a new type of workout or just need somebody in your ear pushing you to a higher level, I find that splurging on a personal-training session is well worth it.

Con: The disadvantages are just that — the cost — but even just a periodic check-in can help, and your trainer might be able to give you routines to follow on your own.

Favorite example: “SNL” legends Hans and Franz, here to pump you up.

YOUR DOG

The strong silent type: loyal, nonjudgmental and almost guaranteed to be faster and in better physical shape than you are. You will never find a partner happier to join you on a run or with a better all-around attitude.

Con: Can’t spot you on the bench.

Favorite example: Air Bud.

No man (or woman) is an island. Finding your own workout buddy is not just a helpful way to break up the monotony of solo training. It’s also beneficial mentally and physically — and altruistically, as in you’re helping another person in the classic “help me help you” tradition of Jerry Maguire.

Just choose carefully. Workout Buddy is a title to take seriously.

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Your 14-Day Plan to Walk More Steps

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For the next 14 days, it’s time to ratchet up your fitness level. Wherever you are on the fitness spectrum — an off-the-couch beginner, beginner/intermediate or intermediate — it’s time to lace up those shoes and take some laps. This fitness plan is meant to be a shot in the arm or a quick jump-start.

The plan is simple: For the next 14 days, you need to double-down on your steps. This two-week challenge is progressive, simple and short.

Numbers are the name of the game for this challenge. You have one simple task: Walk more! Your daily goal will be to walk more than you did the day before. If you can find someone to do this with you, that would be an added boost. It’s always easier to have a friend or family member to hold you accountable and cheer you on.

If time, weather or your job are obstacles that have stood in your way in the past, you might have to use some creativity. Here are some ideas to squeeze in your steps:

  • Walk laps inside your office building on your lunch break
  • Use a treadmill
  • Go to the mall and walk around
  • Wear a path in your carpet around your house

Where there is a will, there is always a way. Good luck!

Off-the-Couch Beginner

WOO HOO! So, you have decided you’re going to make some lifestyle changes to improve your health. Great choice. Creating new habits takes time, patience and a strong will. But guess what? This plan is perfect for you because it’s only two weeks long and simple to follow.

This plan assumes you are capable of averaging 1,000–3,000 steps a day before you begin the routine. You’re going to add 500 steps a day — except for the last day — with the goal to hit 10,000 steps (roughly 5 miles) on Day 14. . If you don’t reach 10,000 steps at the end of the 14 days, it’s OK. Just keep moving. The goal is to simply hit 10,000 steps, and then move up to the beginner/intermediate group.

If you’re not yet able to take 3,000 steps, have no fear. Just start from where you’re able, and try your best to walk a little more every day.

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Beginner/Intermediate

So you guys have been around the block a few times, so to speak. If you are currently averaging 5,000–6,000 steps per day, this group is perfect for you. Now is the time to step up your game — 750 extra steps each day to be exact, with the last day being an exception of 1,000 extra steps. The plan below starts with 5,000 steps. Your goal is to hit 15,000 steps, roughly 7.5 miles, by the end of the two weeks. After the two weeks are finished, you can attack another goal: the intermediate plan. You’ve built momentum; continue to push toward the next fitness goal.

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Intermediate

The pros! Getting your steps is part of your everyday routine. The biggest hurdle for you will not be adding more steps each day, but finding the time to do so. Your time is precious; all we’re asking for is a short-term sacrifice. If you average 6,500–8,000 steps per day, this plan is for you. You have to add 1,000 steps per day, with the goal of hitting 20,000 steps on Day 14. It’s going to take some work to add 1,000 steps per day, but it can be done. The model below starts with 7,000 steps. After you finish this challenge, I strongly recommend you go to a spin class, start jogging or begin lifting weights. Your body is more than ready for the next fitness chapter.

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