Regular exercise no match for a sedentary life

The New York Times Magazine has reported on a fascinating study about “couch potatoes who work out.”

A May study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise uncovered some unexpected data about men who exercise regularly but lead sedentary lives the rest of the time – they may be at similar high risk of heart disease than men who don’t work out at all.

The data was analyzed from an earlier study in 1982 where a large group of men in Dallas were surveyed for their frequency and duration of exercise. This study resulted in findings that exercise is a useful health benefit, but it didn’t look at the incidental data that men supplied – whether or not they also lived sedentary lifestyles away from the gym.

In investigating this ‘other’ data, this study showed that an isolated workout during a sedentary day is not going to keep disease at bay. The scientists are pointing to the culprit: a lack of muscular contraction. This inaction leads to subtle differences in muscle tone that they now believe promote heart disease and diabetes.

We sit at computers all day, drive in our cars, lounge on the couch – sometimes except for a scheduled workout, we may not get any incidental exercise all day. Before the triple-threat screen generation – phones, televisions, computers - people were much more likely to be active around the house during the day and in the evenings, working in the garage, cleaning etc. In the 21st century, we are glued to our screens, usually while sitting, and it’s having adverse affects on our health.

Countering the effects of a sedentary lifestyle is relatively easy, but you have to be aware of it to solve the problem. Get up from your chair or desk often and walk around the office, make a point of getting your own water or coffee throughout the day – anything to keep those unhealthy cellular changes from occurring in your muscles.

Of course working out with aerobic activity is still an excellent way to keep your heart in shape, but what this study reveals is that it’s not enough. It’s also important to move around throughout to day to avoid these subtle muscle changes that put you at risk for heart disease and diabetes. Stand up and get active!