Get rid of sedentary lifestyle and stay healthy through exercise

Get rid of sedentary lifestyle and stay healthy through exercise

In modern life, sitting for long periods of time has become the norm for many people. Offices, schools, and homes have all become the main battlefields for us to “sit”. Even on the road, we move from one place to another by plane, car, train, subway, or even electric bicycle.

Life is inseparable from movement. Human ancestors moved a lot in the natural environment in search of food and habitat. During the agricultural civilization period, humans were able to obtain food through labor and settle in relatively stable places. In the information age, food sources have become more plentiful and regular, allowing humans to enjoy ample food, clothing, and contentment that is unimaginable to any other animal. However, the modern way of life and work has greatly reduced the need for exercise to maintain survival. Instead, people sit for long periods of time, which brings great risks to health.

Sitting for long periods of time leads to illness, which is not something you just talk about casually.

Sitting for long periods of time is one of the most common postures. It is extremely harmful to the joints, muscles and bones that require exercise to maintain health. It also has a significant negative impact on the metabolic system and psychological state that require exercise to regulate.

The first is knee injuries. It is generally believed that “exercise will wear down the knees, and less exercise will protect the knees.” Is this really the case? To understand this, we must first understand how joints obtain nutrients and stay healthy. You should know that articular cartilage is infiltrated in synovial fluid. Since there are no blood vessels in cartilage, the nutrients it needs are mainly provided by synovial fluid. Articular cartilage is like a tough sponge, and its replacement depends entirely on the compression and relaxation of the articular surfaces. When the joint surface is under pressure, the joint fluid in the cartilage is squeezed out and waste products are discharged; when the joint surface is not under pressure, the nutrient-rich joint fluid is sucked into the cartilage, and so on to maintain good joint health.

But sitting for long periods of time interrupts this process. The inability of cartilage to obtain nutrients increases its fragility, greatly reduces its ability to withstand exercise, and is prone to wear and pain. The so-called sports injury to the knees is because sitting for a long time and moving little has already damaged the joints, and it only shows up during exercise. Therefore, this should not be called a “sports” injury but rather a “sedentary” injury. In addition, a long-term sedentary lifestyle will cause the knee joint muscles to remain in a static state, causing them to gradually atrophy and lose activity, which will cause stiffness and pain in the knee joint when going up and down stairs, squatting or even walking. It is worth noting that the aging degeneration of joints is occurring in advance.

Next is back pain. Research shows that healthy people will develop significant low back pain if they sit for more than 4 hours. When the symptoms cannot be relieved or even worsen, people will go to the hospital to take a X-ray and find that their intervertebral disc has herniated. As everyone knows, 50% to 80% of people without low back pain also have intervertebral disc herniation. So what exactly causes low back pain?

Still sitting for a long time! The muscles of the thighs and buttocks are victims of prolonged sitting and are the source of low back pain. Stiffness and reduced activity of these muscles can lead to tension and pain in the lower back when bending, extending the back, and standing up from a seat. Relaxing the thigh and buttock muscles can effectively reduce the pain level of patients with low back pain. In addition, strength training of the buttocks and posterior thigh muscles can also effectively relieve low back pain symptoms. However, it should be reminded that massaging and relaxing the waist muscles cannot effectively improve the symptoms of low back pain.

A middle-aged patient who had been working sedentary for a long time went to the hospital because of low back pain and radiating pain in the lower limbs. He was diagnosed with lumbar disc herniation. However, after a period of bed rest, waist circumference fixation, and drug treatment, the patient’s pain was not relieved. . Therefore, we conducted a comprehensive evaluation of this patient and found that his lower limbs and hip muscles were atrophic and stiff, which may be the cause of low back pain. Next, we launched targeted sports rehabilitation treatment for the patient. Surprisingly, after two weeks, the patient’s waist and leg pain symptoms were significantly improved, and he returned to normal work and life.

The third is osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is common in the elderly and is characterized by a decrease in bone density and quality, making bones brittle and prone to breakage. Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for this disease. Nowadays, more and more young people are being diagnosed with osteoporosis during physical examinations.

Sitting for long periods of time reduces muscle use and weight-bearing activities that are essential for maintaining bone health. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking and running promote bone resorption and remodeling, maintaining bone density. Without these activities, bones gradually lose the opportunity to remodel, leading to osteoporosis. Moreover, prolonged sitting may also affect blood circulation and limit the transport of nutrients and oxygen to bones. In addition, long-term sitting in an office without sunlight will reduce the synthesis of active vitamin D and inhibit the body’s absorption and utilization of calcium in food.

The fourth is metabolic diseases. In order to understand the instructions for use of the human metabolic system, scientists once went to a primitive tribe in the African savanna, where the people made a living by hunting. Scientists have found that the speed and explosive power of these people are far inferior to animals, so how do they get food? The answer is that humans have a more efficient energy metabolism system and can pursue target prey over long and long distances until their metabolic system collapses. Humans can obtain all the energy they need by relying on only 1 kilogram of fat metabolism during a hunt of up to 100 kilometers. In addition, humans have a strong fat reserve capacity, which can increase the fat content in the body to 40% when food is abundant; and in seasons of food shortage, humans can activate fat metabolism to provide energy for the body until the body fat content is as low as 5%.

We eat three meals a day, sit and work, chat, commute and go on business trips. Walking is the main form of activity. Sleep is the ultimate way to relieve the fatigue of the day. Satisfying this lifestyle is too simple for the body’s metabolic system, which causes our fat metabolism system to enter a dormant state. The continuous intake of rich high-quality protein and fat causes the accumulation of fat in the body. This lifestyle of only storing and not utilizing will cause serious metabolic system dysfunction, and obesity, cardiovascular system diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. will follow.

The fifth is anxiety and depression. In addition to the harm to physical health, the impact of prolonged sitting on mental health is also worthy of attention. Sitting or maintaining a static lifestyle for long periods of time may cause or worsen anxiety. First, a lack of exercise may increase anxiety and depression by reducing the body’s ability to adapt to stress. Secondly, exercise has been shown to stimulate the growth and connections of brain nerves, and sitting for long periods of time deprives you of this stimulation, leading to cognitive decline. Additionally, sitting in front of the TV or computer for long periods of time can significantly reduce our opportunities to interact face-to-face with others, leading to social isolation. And social isolation is closely linked to a variety of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Problems such as poor posture caused by prolonged sitting may also affect our social self-confidence and satisfaction with our physical health.

 Scientific exercise can gain lasting health

Exercise can increase muscle strength, improve joint function, maintain bone health, mobilize fat metabolism, etc., and effectively prevent and treat related problems caused by prolonged sitting. Scientifically choosing exercise methods and determining the intensity, total amount and frequency of exercise can help us stay away from the dangers of sitting for long periods of time, avoid the risks of exercise, and gain lasting health.

The following methods are for your reference and try. One is to alternate between standing and sitting. Avoid sitting for more than an hour, and get up and move around for at least two minutes every hour. The second is to avoid sitting postures that cause low back pain. Avoid keeping your legs together or crossing them for a long time while working, and try to keep your legs apart at more than 90 degrees, which can effectively relieve low back pain. The third is exercise in an office environment. Sitting-standing training on a seat is a simple and effective way to train lower limb strength. You can change the difficulty of the movement by adjusting the height of the seat and the front-to-back position of the two feet, gradually increasing muscle strength and preventing muscle atrophy.

Regular physical exercise is essential. WHO recommends that non-manual workers should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week. Brisk walking, jogging, and cycling can all meet the above moderate exercise intensity requirements. This goal can be achieved through multiple exercises lasting at least 10 minutes each. Exercise volume can be monitored and exercise intensity recorded through some smart equipment. For people with exercise risks, such as those with heart disease or other diseases, they need to go to the hospital for an exercise risk assessment before choosing the appropriate exercise method and intensity.

Also pay attention to adjusting your eating habits. Sitting is a very low-energy state, which requires us to limit the intake of carbohydrates and high-fat foods. A more appropriate time to eat should be when you feel hungry. At the same time, you should increase the time interval between each meal and reduce eating at night. Some studies have found that skipping one of three meals a week can help activate the body’s fat metabolism function and reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome.

Here, I also share the exercise rehabilitation experience of a sedentary patient. This is a middle-aged male patient who has been suffering from low back and knee pain caused by sitting for a long time, and has been diagnosed with multiple waist and knee joint diseases. He discovered on the Internet that proper exercise can relieve pain. Although his initial attempt at running was no longer feasible due to increased knee pain, we helped him find a new solution. We designed a “muscle relaxation and re-control” treatment plan, which not only allowed the patient to quickly regain muscle activity, but also significantly relieved the pain symptoms. We recommended that he start with low-load exercise, such as cycling, to avoid putting too much stress on the knee joint. After 4 rounds of careful sports rehabilitation treatment and persistent bicycle exercise, the patient’s low back pain and knee pain were resolved. He can now easily cycle 40 kilometers or run 5 kilometers.

Sitting for long periods of time is not just a simple behavior, it has many health risks hidden behind it. Only by recognizing this and taking active measures to adjust your lifestyle can you ensure the physical and mental health of yourself and your family. I would also like to remind everyone that if conditions permit, we should actively increase face-to-face interactions with friends and family, participate in outdoor activities and team sports, and reduce the sense of social isolation. (Authors: Zhang Wei and Yan Bing are respectively deputy chief physician of the Artificial Intelligence Sports Engineering Laboratory of Beijing Sport University and associate researcher of the China Institute of Sports and Health of Beijing Sport University)

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