While my main focus is on nutrition and health, I do keep in mind that the best companion of good eating is staying “active”! Unfortunately I am not a fan of long hikes and running marathons, yet my activity hobbies (whether zumba, swimming, or yoga) are continuous and keep me moving. Personally, I think it is unwise to focus either on food or physical activity solely (I believe food can lead specifically to stronger body weight management outcomes than activity, but we shall discuss it later), but luckily taking care of one usually results in improvement in both (from what I have observed).
Sit down & Relax
Currently, public health recommendations encourage people to engage in 30 min per day or 150 min per week of moderate-to-vigorous activity, and this represents only 3% of the time we spend awake. That is really not that much, and indeed used to be very easy to achieve without any conscious effort.
However, more&more studies on the issue of sedentary behavior (TV watching, dissertation writing 0_0) are emerging and might need their own recommendations. There is evidence that sedentary behavior has a negative independent effect on health (so, you might be going to the gym 5 times a week, but if you are sitting most of the rest of your time this leads to poor health regardless of all that gym time).
Definition: The term sedentary behavior (from the Latin word sedere, “to sit”) describes a distinct class of activities that require low levels of energy expenditure in the range of 1.0–1.5 METs (multiples of the basal metabolic rate) and involve sitting during commuting, in the workplace and the domestic environment, and during leisure.
Unfortunately, being sedentary is as natural as it gets these days- I, for instance, drive to campus and spend hours sitting in classes or in my office working on research.. I try to take a break to walk around, I try to go to the gym..but that might not mitigate the 5+ hours I have to spend simply SITTING :/. [and I am typing this from a library, where I plan to spend most of my Sunday..]
Currently, optimal levels of sedentary behavior to recommend the public are not known.
Not too many methodologically-strong studies are available yet, but time spent in sedentary behavior has been shown to be consistently associated with increased risk for all-cause, CVD-related, and all-other-causes mortality in both men&women independent of body mass index and physical activity. (caution: still only 6 studies to date)
But… do we reeeally need to move THAT much?
We, health-conscious Westerners, do like to romanticize the past and compare our lives to what it “used to be”. It is no wonder- the benefits of modern life (like cars, playstation, and chocolate :)) come at a price of chronic disease risks and unsatisfactory lack of your quality of life.. You know “paleo” folks who start lifting rocks and hanging on trees trying to imitate the activity levels and patterns of hunter-gatherers? We all seem to think that our ancestors were just the shining example of activity and our modern lifestyles are disgustingly low in energy expenditure in comparison (i think the paleo workouts definitely provide more entertainment thus might be easier to sustain that the gym weight room!).
What I found terribly curious at a recent anthropological conference was a statement by one of the hunter-gatherer researchers that “hunter-gatherers have the energy expenditure of a regular couch potato!”…I had to look that up.
Indeed, modern hunter-gatherers- Hadza, for example (Pontzer et al., 2012), do not expend all that many calories in comparison to us. The similarity of energy expenditure among Hadza and Westerners suggests that even large differences in lifestyle may have a negligible effect on total daily energy expenditure (TEE) and is consistent with the idea that differences in obesity prevalence between populations are attributed primarily from differences in energy intake, rather than expenditure (So, the problem is how we eat, not that we move less; and my hypothesis that diet matters more for one’s body size than activity is confirmed, muahaha!).(OK, OK, I am not suggesting activity doesn’t matter at all. Obviously it has multiple positive effects on health; I am only saying that people who expect to lose weight by starting to go to a gym only are in for some disappointment).
This seems counterintuitive since Hadza lifestyle has elevated physical activity levels in comparison to ourselves… Looks like, despite more active lifestyle, their daily energy requirements were similar to ours. TEE might be a relatively stable physiological trait for humans- a product of common genetic inheritance vs. diverse lifestyles. Of course, other hunter-gatherers need to be examined also.
So..what to do??
No need to wait for definitive evidence that sitting around is “bad”. You know moving feels good- it gives you energy (mental, especially), it improves your mood…
What if you are a busy fellow, though? What if you hate running and playing sports with a passion (as myself)? I believe that finding something you like doing is the only way to be consistent 😉 Identifying a hobby that results in you getting active is fantastic (thus the popularity of zumba)- whether it is dancing, yoga, group fitness of any kind, or hanging on a Lyra or a tree branch and you LIKE it, you’re good 😉
(and while these pics are all of ridiculously fit and attractive folks, we know that fitness benefits health regardless of body size! = even without leading to any weight loss, physical activity has substantial health benefits)
Thorp, A. A., Owen, N., Neuhaus, M., & Dunstan, D. W. (2011). Sedentary behaviors and subsequent health outcomes in adults: a systematic review of longitudinal studies, 1996–2011. American journal of preventive medicine, 41(2), 207-215.
Pontzer, H., Raichlen, D. A., Wood, B. M., Mabulla, A. Z., Racette, S. B., & Marlowe, F. W. (2012). Hunter-gatherer energetics and human obesity. Plos one, 7(7), e40503.