I subscribe to a newsletter called the “Harvard Men’s Health Watch” published by the Harvard Medical School. Usually it’s full of not only interesting, but also valuable information about all sorts of things that have to do with maintaining good health.
The August 2019 issue has a particularly informative lead article about ways to help prevent heart disease that I’d like to share with you. It starts with a slightly disturbing statistic contained in a report called “Circulation” that “almost one quarter of American adults don’t meet federal guidelines for physical activity.” Stated another way, many of us simply sit around too much. Evelyn O’Neill, manager of outpatient exercise programs at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, quoted in the article, said, “Lack of movement is perhaps more to blame than anything else for a host of health problems, including a higher risk of heart disease.” Sitting around is a particular problem for older people.
For example, a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that lasted from 2001 to 2016 showed that people 65 and older sit around, on average, 6.5 hours per day. The study also showed that men are far more likely to sit around longer than women. According to the study, an amazing 84 percent of the 65 and over crowd spend at least two hours every day watching TV or videos. Furthermore, 23 percent sit around four hours or longer each day watching TV, which means they’re really not doing anything – but sitting.
Sitting so much can increase the risk for numerous health issues, “but especially heart disease.” Some of the health problems include weight gain, blood clots, and coronary calcium deposits. When people sit around they’re obviously not moving which is the leading cause of weight gain, and weight gain has been linked to factors that contribute to heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Blood clots are another health problem caused by sitting too much. A recent study showed that those who watched TV the most had a 1.7 times greater risk of developing blood clots that form in the deep veins of the legs compared to those who seldom watched television.
Finally, coronary calcium deposits are another major health risk from lounging on the sofa too much. A 2015 study showed that sitting around too much can cause calcium deposits in heart arteries, which are a sign of excessive plaque buildup. Plaque deposits can interfere with blood flow to the heart which causes a greater risk of having a heart attack.
Happily, there are some simple things to do about the risks to the heart as outlined above. The American Heart Association recommends that people get “at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, which is only 30 minutes per day, five days a week. Ways to achieve that goal include doing chores around the house and walking around whenever possible. Time also needs to be set aside for “structured exercise,” which includes taking a brisk 30-minute walk every weekday, or water aerobics, playing tennis, swimming, running, or riding a bike.
One of the difficulties, according to O’Neill, is finding the motivation to stick with a daily exercise routine. What follows are five strategies that can help avoid sitting around and “moving in a healthier direction.” First, hire a personal trainer. Nothing motivates people like money. “If you pay for sessions with a trainer, you are more likely to show up.” Second, “find a village.” “Research has shown that enlisting a workout buddy or joining a group motivates people to exercise more.” Another technique is setting a goal or challenge which “is always a great motivator.” One option could be signing up for a 5K, (kilometer) walk or run. Doing so will provide the extra motivation needed because you’ll have to be ready in terms of getting in shape to meet the challenge of a run or walk. Another technique is “investing in yourself.” That means doing something like buying a fitness tracker that counts your steps every day or buying workout clothes and exercise shoes. “You don’t have to spend a lot, but it sends a clear message that you’re ready to change your habits.” Finally, it is suggested that you get a dog! “A survey of almost 200 dog owners…found that 64 percent met the 150-minutes-per-week guideline for activity through dog walking alone.”
The point is that 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day isn’t that difficult to do – especially when one considers the probable alternative – heart disease. Even if the outcome of sofa-sitting isn’t heart disease, developing a 30-minute daily routine will make anyone feel better, remain more agile and, in all probability, live longer. I once heard that the average life-span of people who retire and do nothing – except sit on the sofa – is two years! An investment of 30-minutes per day isn’t much of a sacrifice for a longer life.
Ultimately, getting off the sofa the first time is the hardest part. Once you do that, the rest is easy and, again, the probable outcome of staying on the sofa won’t be very pleasant at all…
That’s — 30 — for this week.