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Keep a sitting journal to help change a habit

Documentating how long you sit each day can help guide changes to help you be more active

Keeping a journal of time spent sitting can

Keeping a journal of time spent sitting can help create healthier habits, experts say. Photo Credit: TNS Dreamstime / Michal Bednarek

How much time in a day do you spend sitting? If you don’t know or have only the vaguest idea of how long you sit each day, then it’s time to start keeping a sitting journal that tracks your sitting time. That’s because there has been a great deal of new research and many recent studies which prove that too much sitting can be dangerous — even fatal — to your health.

The popular site WebMD says that “sitting for long hours is linked to worse mental health, a higher risk of death from heart disease and other causes, [and] a higher risk of being disabled.”

Dr. James A. Levine wrote in an article for the Mayo Clinic, “Too much sitting seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.” He quotes one study which states that people who spend more than four hours a day sitting and watching television had a nearly 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause.

This doesn’t include just the folks who sit and watch TV. Any form of sitting for long hours is detrimental to good health. That includes sitting at a desk while working or sitting in a vehicle as either a driver or a passenger. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine said that those who spend more than 11 hours a day sitting are at the highest risk of death. Yes, some people spend 11 hours a day sitting down!

Many of the risks of sitting for long hours need no studies. Balance, for example, comes with practice. Walking or moving around gives a person an innate sense of how to hold their body mass in balance. But those age 55 years and older rarely move around as much as they did when younger. That takes away the surprise from statistics showing seniors are the most common victims of falls that cause disability or death.

Another fact which needs no research is that spending much or most of each day sitting may lead to obesity. If calories from food don’t get worked off with exercise or other activity, they will be stored as fat.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that an hour spent walking or jogging will offset four or five hours of sitting. It doesn’t work that way. The effects of long hours of sitting are profound on every part of the body; from blood vessels to the respiratory system. A relatively short time of activity compared to the longer time sitting doesn’t balance everything out.

So how do you keep, and use, a sitting journal? Start with purchasing at least four identical small notebooks. Distribute them to the places where you spend time sitting. Put one on the kitchen table, for example, another in your vehicle. If you take public transportation, carry the notebook in a purse or fanny pack. Place another near the couch or chair where you watch TV. If you spend time sitting for a hobby, such as reading or putting together a puzzle, put a notebook where you do it.

Whenever you spend time sitting, use one page of the appropriate notebook to write down the date on the top of the page and the time you started sitting as well as the time you stood up and went somewhere else. If you’re pulling out the notebook that you carry with you outside your home, don’t be embarrassed if others stare if you start writing down the time you sat to have lunch and the time you stood up to go elsewhere. Remember, a sitting journal isn’t kept forever. You just want to get a close estimate of how much time a day you spend on your butt.

Once you have a good gauge of your sitting habits, start adjusting your sitting to a more healthy routine. Stand or pace around while watching TV. Stand while using your phone. Take a break after every 30 minutes of sitting and do side bends, toe touches or march in place.

It may be hard to spend more time upright at first, but with time, it gets easier. And the results, which include losing fat, gaining more mobility and lessening the risk of a disabling fall, are certainly worth it.

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