During weeks like these especially - blustery, cold ones forcing us inside - the tendency to sit inside extends far past class and meeting times. This propensity to constantly sit is often driven by a desire for comfort, making us tremendously more likely to find a good chair and a blanket for homework or televsion time rather than find ways to stay on our feet during these stagnant activities. At college age, we seem hard-wired to believe that inactivity, coupled with the consequences that ensue, is a plague of our elders. However, a lack of exercise wreak physiological havoc on our young, nimble bodies.
However, recent scientific research in sedentarism may push you to think twice about spending hours a day sitting. A new study conducted by the Cancer Prevention Research Center in Queensland, Australia, for example, found that adults who sat more, even when they met their daily exercise goals, were more likely to suffer from a myriad of physiological consequences due to the harsh impact of sitting on metabolic health (Owen, Genevieve, Matthews, and Dunstan, 2012). In the long term, these researchers found that sedentary adults were more likely to die prematurely. In the short-term, however, adults who sat for just a two-hour period (about the time it takes to watch a movie or complete a class reading) were found to have abnormal glucose metabolism (an inability to properly break down consumed sugar which, in the long term, is a risk factor for Type 2 Diabetes). The study also showed that women who exercised at least 150 minutes per week, but spent time watching TV at night, were more likely to have abnormal glucose metabolism and higher levels of triglycerides and HDL-cholesterol - both of which increase one’s risk for heart disease. The high triglyceride and HDL-cholesterol levels were determined to occur during sitting because the absence of contractile stimulation (i.e. significant movement) impedes activity of LPL, which helps regulate triglyceride and HDL production. Additionally, the study cites the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association as stating that getting in daily exercise is not a pass to sit nor is being consistently active during the day a good substitute for exercise. Rather, to give ourselves the best chance of staving off these aforementioned consequences, we must find a comfortable combination of both. But how can we change our sedentary habits? First of all, we should acknowledge that it is not entirely our fault. The more I look around, the more I see our environment has been designed for sitting. Every coffee shop (including Burgess) is filled with some combination of stools, chairs, and couches, as though to suggest we could not possibly be relaxed and standing at the same time. To stand while doing homework in the library - I’ve learned from experience - gleans strange looks from fellow scholars. The only one who has the privilege to stand in class is the professor. Even the gym at our Williamson Sports Center has comfortable, cushy benches within ten feet of the exit of the cardio room. With all these signs to sit constantly, though implicitly, bombarding us, no wonder it seems strange to take a stand against sitting. However, in recent months, I’ve done my best to do just that. As a recent investor in a fitbit bracelet, I’m aware now, more than ever, how little activity I get during the day outside of a scheduled workout. I find myself doing laps in my room just to meet the default goal of 5,000 steps per day, probably set for the average middle-aged adult, rather than a twenty-something college student. Studying at my standing desk, a new challenge this year, feels unfamiliar and uncomfortable when compared to my prior study sessions in my window seat or the big comfy chairs on the second floor of the library. However, I’ve found it makes me more likely to pace while I read and generally helps me to be more alert and productive. If your schedule is tight, as it is for most Skidmore students, there are ways to combine activities so you can save time while staying active. Lots of reading to do for class? Download the audiobook instead and go for a walk. Don’t want to miss your favorite show? Bring your smartphone or iPad to the gym and catch up on the perils of Pookie in Meerkat Manor while you break a sweat on the elliptical. And once the sidewalks are paved again, try walking into town rather than taking the bus or a car - it burns calories and saves gas too! However you choose to get up and moving is the right way. Challenge yourself and you’ll see both short term and long-term benefits.